TFL’s Sun-in-the-Sands adverts given the go-ahead

Sun in Sands from north - showing ad position

This is the view that drivers will have from the A102 later this year. Despite objections from local Labour councillors, the Blackheath and Westcombe societies  and the Greenwich Conservation Group, a planning inspector has just allowed Boris Johnson’s Transport for London to put up huge electronic advertising panels, 3m high and 12m wide, on the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout. A mock-up of the north-facing one is shown here, with the south-facing one below.

The plans were turned down by Greenwich Council in 2013 but TFL wouldn’t take no for an answer and appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, which held a hearing on January 7th to consider the appeal. (For previous posts on the story see here and here).

The Planning Inspector’s judgement, published on January 29th, can be read here. The inspector has added some conditions limiting the brightness of the illuminated adverts, ordered that images should change no more frequently than every ten seconds, they the images should not move, and that it should not take more than  a second to change from one image to another. But generally this is a bad day for drivers on the A102, who may well be distracted by flashing adverts, and the roundabout’s neighbours who will now have to live alongside them.Sun in Sands from south - showing ad position

The inspector’s report is a dry read, but tucked away in the text are two intriguing details.

Firstly, the inspector seems to have been swayed by the fact that Transport for London had, funnily enough, not objected to their own planning application:

In reaching this conclusion, I have given considerable weight to the lack of objection to the proposal from the highway authority and to the compliance of the advertisement displays with the guidance adopted by the highway authority in relation to proposals of this nature. Whilst I note that, in this case, the highway authority is also the appellant, the evidence before me indicates that the highway safety assessment of the proposed advertisements is undertaken separately to any commercial assessment of site suitability and is subject to a safety audit. In the light of this lack of objection, whilst I have had careful regard to the concerns of the local planning authority, including those relating to drivers potentially breaking the speed limit, I have not found the evidence presented by the Council in this respect to be compelling and, as such, I am not satisfied that it would be appropriate to find against the proposal for this reason.

Translated into plain English, this means that the planning inspector thinks that TFL are the best-qualified people to judge whether flashing adverts are safe on a road run by, and bringing revenue to, TFL itself. Hmm.

Elsewhere, the inspector seems to have decided that the application is perfectly OK because there is currently a low accident rate on this stretch of road (forgetting that this may be worsened once the advertising panels go in), and because “sequentially changing” adverts are no worse than static ones:

Having regard to the appellant’s arguments, including the traffic accident record,I am persuaded that the nature of this section of the road and its traffic conditions are such that the demands on drivers in the vicinity of the appeal site are relatively modest. Furthermore, there is nothing substantive before me to demonstrate that an illuminated sequentially changing digital sign is likely to be significantly more distracting than a conventional illuminated advertisement in this location, particularly given the potential to control the level of illumination concerned. As a result, considered overall, I find that the location of the advertisements, together with their size, height, illumination and sequentially changing digital nature, would not be unacceptably distracting, preventing drivers from exercising due care and attention. As such, I consider that they would not be harmful to highway safety.

This application is a thin end of a wedge: it is now considered safe to have huge adverts over, as well as alongside, the A2 or A102 as long as TFL says so.

There is little or no prospect of the planning inspector’s decision being overturned so we will have to see what the advert panels are like in practice and reflect on what this tells us about TFL’s priorities: when asked to repair a nearby broken bridge (where Charlton Road crosses the A102), or put  up fencing to shield residents of Siebert Road and Westcombe Hill from the noisy motorway, they plead poverty and take forever to do anything. But when the opportunity to get advertising revenue from the A102 comes along, TFL leaps into action and follows a failed planning application with an immediate appeal.  Boris needs to think again.

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3 Responses to TFL’s Sun-in-the-Sands adverts given the go-ahead

  1. Sue Allen says:

    What with the gagging law going through and this news, it’s all very depressing! Sue Allen

  2. Ronald parkinson says:

    Boris. You can not allow tfl to go ahead with this stupid idea of advert panels, there is everything wrong with this ; people are told not use phones whilst driving because of the danger, so what is the difference in going down a motor way and looking at signs by taking your eyes of the road..silly bloody idea…😄🤔

  3. Ben says:

    And last night it was installed… Not switched on yet but it is a huge monstrosity. I cannot see how it isn’t going to distract drivers and I’m going to be interested to see what type of adverts are going to be displayed into my daughter’s bedroom.

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