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FEATURES - THE BIG PICTURE

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Planners are divided over giant adverts. Are they commercial clutter or pretty pictures? Do they lead to conflict o...
Planners are divided over giant adverts. Are they commercial clutter or pretty pictures? Do they lead to conflict of interest? Then there are the cowboys to contend with, says Ed Shelton

Large format advertising posters, known as building wraps or shrouds, are increasingly polarising council planning departments.

While some councils are using injunctions to combat the phenomenon, others are taking advantage of the medium and forming revenue-generating partnerships.

Building wraps are a relatively new phenomenon. They are generally put up temporarily on scaffolding and their huge size makes them valuable to advertisers. But uncertainty over the planning issues they raise means they have become controversial.

Blazing a trail among those councils more relaxed about them is Liverpool City Council which has agreed a deal with Blowup Media UK, one of the advertising companies most active in the area. The deal will see the company putting up wraps in the city, with the council getting a share of the proceeds.

Paul Rice, city centre manager at Liverpool, says the arrangement is good for the council as it brings in new revenue in the form of commission as well as the opportunity to use the sites to publicise its own initiatives.

'It is not just a question of gaining income but also the opportunity of spreading good news. We are often criticised for not giving out good news about what we are doing - what better opportunity than on the site itself to promote the regeneration of the city,' Rice says.

Birmingham City Council made the Guinness Book of Records last year by allowing Coca Cola to mount a building wrap in the form of the world's biggest advent calendar on the side of the town hall. The ad generated money towards the restoration of the building.

Manchester is rumoured to have plans to use building wraps extensively to capitalise on the interest in the city generated by this year's Commonwealth Games.

Blowup UK's managing director Mark Bracey, says: 'Local authorities are slowly becoming more au fait with what we do and the benefits of it. Liverpool is the first in the UK to recognise what they can get out of it.'

But some councils look at Liverpool and Birmingham with some unease. One source says: 'I am very suspicious of what is being promulgated in Liverpool. A council has a judicial role in planning applications and cannot take income considerations into account.

'This deal could put a junior planning officer in an invidious position. The difficulty is in ensuring that there is no contamination of recommendation,' the source added.

Liverpool says its deal does not have any bearing on the planning process. Mr Rice says: 'We are not prejudicing the planning process - they still have to get the necessary advertising consent in the normal way.'

Building wrap companies often use retrospective planning applications to get round the law. In some areas building wraps are often put up without planning consent, with an application being submitted retrospectively on the same day. The companies concerned know that even if they are refused, the delay before they are forced to take them down will be sufficient for them to make money.

London boroughs like Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, traditionally the least tolerant of all councils to outdoor advertising, are in the vanguard of those seeking to combat the increasing occurrence of building wraps.

The council's frustration over seeing buildings being wrapped despite not having planning permission has now led to a new get-tough policy which will see injunctions against repeat offenders.

The first action under Westminster's tougher policy led to an injunction being awarded in January after a company put an ad up in Covent Garden without consent.

Westminster opposes the wraps as it believes it has a duty to keep the capital's streets free of commercial clutter and because it says they can be dangerous if they are not attached to the scaffolding or building by experts.

But those on the opposing side of the argument say that, if they are correctly attached and attractively designed, they can improve the environment.

Matthew Carrington, chairman of the Outdoor Advertising Association, says: 'Some councils are very positive and take the sensible attitude that you need safety sheeting on scaffolding so it may as well have an attractive ad on it. We think that if they are properly controlled the banners are an improvement.'

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