Cluttering up the countryside with roadside adverts

Here is my article in the latest issue of the Countryman.  Roadside adverts are creeping back as local authority planning departments are cut – and CPRE hates them!


I drove from London to Oakham in Rutland at the weekend.  It is not the most pleasant drive, but it was made considerably worse by sproutings of ugly roadside advertisements. 

Trying to stop billboards and trailers cluttering up the countryside and obscuring views from roads and railways has been a CPRE staple throughout our history.  CPRE’s founders wanted people to have a clear sense of when they were in the countryside and when they were in the town, and they dreaded the prospect of roadsides becoming advertising corridors, as they saw in the USA. 

Clough Williams-Ellis was particularly eloquent about the ‘vulgar babel’ leading to and from our large towns, towns which ‘devote large sums to the maintenance of civil dignity at their centres, but leave their boundaries to be as tatterdemalion and slattern as they please’.  He shared Rabindranath Tagore’s apocalyptic view that ‘commercialism with its barbarity of ugly decorations is a terrible menace to all humanity, because it is setting up the ideal of power over that of perfection’. 

Of course, a trailer in a farmer’s field, or even a billboard, does not cause permanent loss of countryside, so CPRE has not run a major national campaign on this issue since 2006.  We have plenty of things to keep us busy, and the last campaign was a considerable success.  The laws of roadside adverts are much tougher, making them easier to remove; some big firms who previously allowed their products to be advertised in this way have now stopped; and Ministers, particularly Eric Pickles, are very supportive.

But for roadside advertising to cease requires two things.  First, citizens must report examples to local planning authorities, who have the power (and, one hopes, the resources) to take action.  Second, decent firms must feel a backlash against practices that uglify the countryside. 

The adverts for two or three bed barn conversions (proprietor Nick Boles?) alongside the A14 probably just need to be removed.  But Welcome Break, with its huge, ugly hoarding along the M11, promoting a number of respectable firms, including Waitrose, should think again.  So should Direct Golf UK: does its head office know that its brand is being damaged by an advert alongside the A14?  I have been feeling old and was seriously thinking of taking up golf (that ‘confirmed state of senility’, as Robert Lowell called it) and spending hundreds of pounds on equipment: I have had second thoughts thanks to that advert.       

4 Responses to “Cluttering up the countryside with roadside adverts”

  1. 1 @ExplorerDale November 23, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Where / how can we report unsightly roadside adverts?

    • 2 sspiers November 23, 2013 at 10:44 am

      Try to note where you saw the advert and report it to the local authority. We’ll post some more detailed ‘how to’ information on Monday.

      • 3 sspiers November 27, 2013 at 11:52 am

        Apologies for the delay in giving this advice.

        We used to refer people to a guide that had been produced by the Planning Advisory Service in 2007 (then a Government agency, now part of the LGA) in response to our earlier campaign. This guide has now been removed from the PAS website – I hope some new advice will appear.

        Based on the previous PAS guidance, anyone concerned about a rail- or roadside advert in the countryside should

        – Make a note of the broad location, taking a photograph if it is safe to do so. The local authority needs to know enough to identify who the landowner is, and what is being advertised.
        – Write to the planning enforcement team at the relevant local authority (district, borough or unitary council) asking them to take action. Refer to a 2010 statement by Eric Pickles on sign clutter more generally,, as well as the Localism Act and guidance in the current Circular 03/2007, all of which encourage local authorities to take action to remove unauthorised advertisements from alongside major roads.
        – Point out to the local authority that it is usually enough to write to the landowner threatening prosecution, but often it is helpful to write to the company whose product is being advertised, as they may not be aware of their name appearing on an unauthorised advert and will want to avoid negative publicity (as was seen in 2005 with Ibis Hotels for example).
        – The local authority should point out to the landowner or company that displaying an advertisement without the appropriate consent is a criminal offence.

        It sounds a bit of a palaver, but in our experience local authorities do take action when given enough information about roadside adverts.

        Shaun Spiers

  2. 4 jacksonsallyann December 5, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Reblogged this on Peakirk 2025 and commented:
    We can do without all this clutter

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