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Roads: Illegal Motorway Advertisements

Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 21 July 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of illegal motorway advertisements; and whether they will issue revised guidance to local authorities on the matter.

My Lords, the Government have not undertaken any assessment of the number of illegal motorway advertisements. The enforcement of advertisement control is a matter for the local planning authorities, which have a range of powers to take action against advertisements displayed in contravention of the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007. Guidance has been issued in CLG Circular 03/2007 which emphasises the importance of amenity and public safety in advertising control.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and for his continuing interest in this matter, but does he agree that motorway adverts are not only illegal but often ugly, badly designed and represent a driver hazard? After all, they would not be succeeding unless they distracted the driver’s attention. In the light of that, will he renew the 2007 advice to local councils with increased vigour, and study the research by Brunel University which suggested that some 20,000 accidents and 300 deaths might be ascribed to the hazard of adverts aligning the motorways?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, in his campaigning on this matter. He is right to do so and I agree with much of what he said about these advertisements. He identifies a lack of definitive scientific research. The Highways Agency has advised me that there is no obvious pattern of accidents near these advertisements. There is no cluster effect. It is therefore difficult to give the necessary research much priority. The Highways Agency informs local authorities of any infringements and it is up to them to determine their priorities. But the noble Lord’s Question will do much to raise the profile of the issue.

My Lords, often the signs we see on the roadside are on the sides of wagons or on trailers. When is such an advertisement legal and when is it not?

My Lords, in my opinion most of these advertisements are illegal but the difficulty is one of enforcement. An advertisement on a vehicle is not subject to control under the 2007 regulations, provided the vehicle is normally used as a moving vehicle and is not used principally for the display of advertisements. When a vehicle is used principally for the display of an advertisement and is parked in one place for a prolonged period, the land can be regarded as a site for the display of an advertisement and then would require express consent from the local planning authority.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the same hazards described by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, can occur in road signs? I am thinking in particular of the one in Lincolnshire, which directs you “To Mavis Enderby and Old Bolingbroke”, under which somebody had written, “the gift of a child”.

My Lords, I am not familiar with that particular sign. The regulations we have in place are comprehensive, reasonable and effective and I pay tribute to the party opposite for the 2007 regulations.

My Lords, as the noble Earl identified, the problem is one of enforcement. How do the Government intend to ensure that we have proper enforcement in the future and, given that police forces in the country are saying they cannot face the cuts that are coming their way, how we can expect to see any improvement in enforcements? Might he suggest that, under localism, individuals should take it into their own hands to start enforcing?

My Lords, it is a matter for the local authority to enforce the regulations. The problem is the exploitation of the flexibility in the regulations that allows an advertisement on a vehicle to be exempt. Farmers are leaving a trailer parked in the field for months; it is very difficult for the local authorities to prosecute but it is for them to determine their priorities.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not the illegal advertisements that are dangerous and distracting to drivers—because a good driver pays no attention to them? Rather, it is the totally unnecessary and frivolous legal notices, which say things like “Please drive carefully” in lettering a little too small to be easily read.

My Lords, the noble Lady makes an important point but we are talking about advertisements on the strategic route network.

My Lords, following the point made by the noble Lady, and given that motorways are covered in signs saying things like “Check your fuel”—put there at great expense—what on earth is the harm in small businesses being able to put advertisements for their products in fields on the sides of lorries? Surely at a time of recession, with a Government committed to encouraging free enterprise and reducing regulation, this cannot be a priority?

My Lords, I thought someone would make this point. It is because of our comprehensive regulations that we do not have the situation seen in overseas countries, where roads are littered with advertisements. We have an effective system.

My Lords, does this comprehensive regulation cover the large number of Conservative Party posters we saw alongside motorways at the last election?

My Lords, the regulations are so comprehensive that they make specific provision for advertisements connected with general elections.