Amid the babble of advertising plastered all over the city, sometimes there are banners that don’t look quite right, quite authorised under planning regulations.
Like the massive Sprite advert that briefly draped a building on the corner of Wexford Street and Kevin Street Lower this summer.
It was there one day, and gone soon after, without planning permission. Quick, before anyone complained, and before a fine could have been imposed.
How can the use of such unauthorised ads be stopped? And is it really even worth the trouble?
A Quicker, Easier Buck?
In 2015, Dublin City Council received 152 complaints alleging unauthorised advertisements in the city. So far in 2016, it has received 83 complaints.
Under the Planning and Development Acts 2001-2015, all development, other than specifically exempted development, requires planning permission, according to the council’s press office.
In that case, have all these banners applied for planning permission? No chance, says independent Councillor Mannix Flynn.
“There needs to be a proper advertising strategy [in Dublin],” says Flynn. “These things need to be demanded to be taken down in the first hour or two hours of them going up. There should be no allowance made.”
Says Labour Councillor Andrew Montague: “They’re trying to save money. They find it’s cheaper, quicker and easier.”
“It’s certainly a problem,” says Montague, who is head of the council’s planning committee. “They bring down the tone of an area and often undermine the other shops around.”
Walk of Shame
In mid-July, the giant banner went up over the Karma Stone pub on Wexford Street, with big green letters advertising the soft drink Sprite.
“Camden Street,” it read. “The first step on your walk of shame.”
Karma Stone said it couldn’t comment on the advert. It isn’t there anymore. But a Coca-Cola spokesperson said the advert did not have planning permission.
“We confirm that the banner was a temporary one (posted for two weeks) and, as such, did not require planning permission,” the Coca-Cola spokesperson said, by email. “It was erected in compliance with all necessary regulations.”
But according to a Dublin City Council press office spokesperson, there is no grace period.
There are some caveats for signs, such as election posters, signs for local cultural, sporting, recreational events and for-sale/let signs, that they must be removed within seven days of the event being advertised.
“Retention of such signs after the seven-day period requires planning permission,” said the spokesperson from the press office.
But this doesn’t apply to banners for soft drinks.
An Taisce Heritage Officer Ian Lumley says big company advertisements are a problem frequently tackled by his organisation.
“What they’re doing is abusing the planning system,” says Lumley. “There’s no such thing as a grace period, but there is a time period between which a local authority becomes aware of these developments and the banner comes down.”
That’s the crux, says Lumley. By the time the advertisement is removed or enforcement proceedings occur, the banner has achieved its aim, with few repercussions.
“They [the council] have to enter a process of warning letters and enforcement notices,” he says. “In the meantime, the illegal development remains in place.”
Dublin City Council press office said it did not receive a planning application from Coca-Cola in respect of the Karma Stone banner on Wexford Street.
It can’t comment further, though, as the advert wasn’t flagged with it at all. “No complaints were received,” the press office spokesperson said.
Lumley of An Taisce says the organisation has tackled companies such as Coca-Cola and Heineken in the past in relation to unauthorised advertisements in the Georgian Quarter of the city, in particular.
But things move slowly, he said. “The planning system is very clunky. It’s each case, each building at a time. Companies are doing this for PR but we consider it illegal and damaging to buildings and the historic environment. It should be regarded as a source of shame for these companies.”
On Mary’s Abbey near Capel Street, a plastic banner was on display in May advertising “Hookless Holiday Homes” in County Wexford. It covered street artist ADW’s work Hold Fast and was pinned to either side of the gable end of the building.
Hookless Holiday Homes did not respond to an email or call about whether the advertisement had planning permission. (There was nothing listed on the council’s planning website.)
In court, an individual or company can be fined a maximum of €5,000 for illegal or unauthorised advertising. In reality, the fines are less, says Labour’s Montague.
“The fines are very low, it’s only €150 a fine,” he says. “That’s all. That’s not a city council decision, that’s a national government decision. Even if you get caught, sure €150, that’s nothing.”
“I think there needs to be stronger national legislation,” says Montague. “You can spend morning, noon and night running around after people but if you’re just going to fine them €150 it’s usually ‘Grand, I’ll pay that.’”
As An Taisce’s Lumley sees it, the problem falls at the council’s feet. “I would say that the legislation needs improvement, but this is still a transparent breach of planning,” he says.
Lumley instead suggests tackling prosecuting both the advertiser and the owner of the premises displaying the advertisement.
“The fines are in no way proportionate,” he says. “But we have pointed this out legally, and this is what the city council could do, is [take] legal action …. against the property owner and the company using them.”