Outdoor Advertising, Light Pollution and a Legal Battle Over a Bus Shelter

Light pollution generated by hi-tech digital advertising displays can be a source of bitter complaint. However, such concerns were insufficient to persuade the High Court to overturn permission granted for the inclusion of one such display in a proposed new bus shelter.

A householder launched judicial review proceedings against the backdrop of a local authority's multi-million-pound plans to replace its aging bus stop infrastructure and an outdoor advertising provider's proposal to install digital liquid crystal displays at 158 existing advertising sites in the area, including 110 bus shelters.

The focus of his complaint was the proposed inclusion of such a display in a new bus shelter to be built a few metres from his home. The shelter formerly featured back-illuminated, double-sided posters in paper form, but its replacement would be fitted with one of the new state-of-the-art displays.

There was no need to obtain planning permission for the replacement shelter in that the proposed works fell within the ambit of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. The provider, however, required advertising consent under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007.

A planning officer's report considered that the display, together with smaller screens suitable for public information, would be acceptable in terms of design and that their size, positioning and brightness would result in a neutral impact on the immediate area. The council granted advertising consent subject to a number of conditions, including a restriction on the brightness level of the display's night-time illumination.

Challenging that decision, the householder argued that he and his neighbours had a legitimate expectation that they would be consulted before consent was granted. There was, he argued, a failure to consider a local planning policy which required advertising positively to contribute to an area's character and appearance. He said that there had been no assessment of the impact of the display, particularly in terms of light pollution, at the specific bus shelter.

Dismissing his case, however, the Court found that the council had, in substance, taken the policy into account. The focus of the Regulations was in any event on amenity and public safety: improving the public realm and positively enhancing the setting of advertising were only relevant in that context.

Although the planning officer's report referred to advertising providing an income stream to the council, the Court rejected arguments that immaterial considerations had been taken into account. The council had used best practice to determine as a matter of planning judgment the degree of illumination it would approve at the specific bus shelter. There was nothing exceptional about the provider's application and the council had given no clear, unambiguous and unqualified undertaking that it would be the subject of public consultation.