Could digital billboard advertising be banned in Sheffield to ‘reduce light pollution’?

A proposal to ban and remove digital billboards in Sheffield has been raised at a full council meeting.
Sheffield Town HallSheffield Town Hall
Sheffield Town Hall

At last week’s meeting at Sheffield Town Hall, a member of the public told the chamber that to meet the council’s decarbonisation goals following the declaration of a climate emergency in the city, one of the first steps may be to reduce “light pollution”.

He said: “Whilst I appreciate and emphasise the council will have not received sufficient support from the national government, I believe that with the stakes so high with the consequences of the future generations globally so severe that these failures are ones we shouldn’t be willing to accept.

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“So I came to this meeting today not to merely complain but to propose a policy change to address this target whilst also increasing health and wellbeing, reducing light pollution and making our public real more and more attractive places to be.”

“My suggestion is Sheffield City Council introduces an immediate ban and removal of digital billboard advertising,” he added.

He said the billboards impeded pedestrians and the disabled while distracting drivers.

“Just one of these boards consumes as much energy as three family homes”, he told the chamber.

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He also raised issues with the placement of these billboards, often seeing them in deprived areas advertising goods, services and gadgets “people living there may not be able to afford”.

He called on the council to introduce a strict policy – as other cities, such as Bristol or even Amsterdam, did – that regulates outdoor advertising.

In response, Cllr Ben Miskell, the chair of the transport, regeneration and climate policy committee, said the council’s finance committee was due to consider a new advertising and sponsorship policy next month.

He added: “The large and small digital format sites that are in place in our city all have planning consent in place.”

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Cllr Miskell said the companies running (providing) these billboards use 100 per cent renewable energy and switch off between midnight and 5am “to reduce energy use”.

He, however, admitted that the council had “very limited” control over other operators of advertising sites which are “usually much larger installations”.

During the members’ questions segment, Cllr Marieanne Elliott (The Green Party) – who asked about billboards – was told by Cllr Tom Hunt, the leader of the council, that Sheffield Council did not own advertising panels – only the land they have been installed on.

Cllr Hunt said the council had two agreements in place: one with a company called JCDecaux for 17 large format panels (eight digital and nine paper panels) and one with Clear Channel for 129 small format panels (58 digital and 71 paper panels).

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When asked who is paying to operate these panels, Cllr Hunt added: “The companies that own the panels pay for the electricity. There is no cost to SCC for this.

“Additionally, the companies also pay for other installation (planning and capital) and operating (maintenance and cleaning) costs associated with the panels.

“The council benefits from the arrangements through rental income and through provision of some free of charge space on the panels for public information and campaigns provision.”