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Keeping Bristol’s parks ad-free

At a council meeting on March 20 Bristol Council debated a petition to ‘Keep our parks advertising free’. The petition was organised in response to the Labour administration’s proposals to introduce commercial advertising to Bristol's parks and green spaces, and calls on the council to abandon these plans.

One month earlier at the council's budget meeting in February, Green councillors had proposed a budget amendment that would have provided extra funding for the city’s parks in order to prevent the introduction of advertising, funded by scrapping the free parking which councillors and senior staff currently benefit from at City Hall. However the amendment was vigorously opposed by all three other parties in the Chamber and voted down by the Labour and Conservative groups.

Responding to the outcome, Green Group Leader Eleanor Combley said:

“To be honest, I struggle to see why this proposal is controversial. Our constitution is clear: the basic allowance for councillors should cover transport costs within Bristol, and we are not meant to receive any additional funding for transport. We seem to have no problem with following this rule when it comes to councillors who use public transport, so why are we going against our own constitution when it comes to councillors who drive?

“It is rather depressing that Councillors value their free parking spaces over increased funding for the city’s parks, which could be used to alleviate threats to introduce advertising. Meanwhile, with no apparent sense of irony, the Labour administration prepares to increase parking charges for ordinary people across Bristol.”

Below is the text of the speech Green councillor for Southville Stephen Clarke made at the March 20  Council meeting, speaking in response to the petition:

Full Council Speech by Cllr Stephen Clarke

"First of all I would like to congratulate the organisers of this important petition (Robbie and Nicola and the others at Adblock Bristol) who I know are doing really important work around the issue of keeping Bristol liveable and helping to protecting our children from some of the pressures imposed by commerce on them.

I suppose the truth is that no one in this chamber really wants advertising hoardings in our parks. The question is whether we are prepared to follow through on this belief or we think it is worth having them to get the cash. My view and the view of my fellow Green Group (and the view of the 5000 odd people who have signed this petition) is that it’s just not worth it.

One of the reasons I love Bristol (which is where I was born and where my children live) is that I am not constantly bombarded by intrusive commercial images; or at least not to the extent that I am in London or New York (or even Liverpool as evidenced by this picture) [image can be seen here].

The thought of brightly lit, large intrusive hoardings in parks trying to sell me goods I don’t want or need fills me with horror. I want (and demand) the freedom to choose when I am exposed to advertising. On ITV, yes; in newspapers and magazines, yes; in parks and public open spaces around the city, NO!

There are many reasons why this idea is disastrously wrong; some have already been mentioned by others but let’s just consider a few fundamental questions:

 Firstly; what are our parks for?

-          In essence; they are places for urban dwellers to stroll around and have a little taste of nature.

 -          They are places for parents to bring their kids and allow them to run around with as few cares as possible.

 -          They are places for our teenagers to chat to each other, exercise on bikes and skateboards and become the citizens of tomorrow.

 Secondly; why do the advertisers want to put up these billboards?

-          The only reason is obviously to sell us more ‘stuff’; stuff we often don't need; stuff that pollutes our city with noxious fumes like 4x4s; stuff that won’t be making us happy anytime soon.

 How do the advertisers do this?

-          Usually by attacking how we feel about ourselves; we are made to feel too fat, too old or too poor. Many studies have shown that this directly affects our mental health and leads to problems such as eating disorders, depression and poor self-image.

 An even dafter thing to note is that often these advertising campaigns go directly against the aims of our own council initiatives; Sugar Smart for example or trying to help the air pollution situation. Where is the logic in fighting these ills in our town at great cost at the same time as selling opportunities (in our parks!) to accelerate them?

 A few other quick points:

-          I have a particular concern about digital advertising which I have no doubt will arrive hard on the heels of any billboards that are allowed. These are visual pollution on a huge scale: real ‘sky trash’. They use huge amounts of energy (the large ones have up to 10,000 LEDS and use the same energy as up to 30 residential homes) and are designed to use maximum distraction techniques (of course): quickly changing, brightly coloured visual images bombarding us with sales messages.

 -          Is it possible to do anything about this issue? Well, we are not the first community to have thought about this; many others have. There is a long list of these forward thinking communities (up to 1400 worldwide at the last count) including all of Sweden, parts of New Zealand, Bergen in Norway, Hawaii and 700 other communities in the USA. All of these and many others have made a stand against billboards and digital advertising.

 -          By the way; this is a social justice issue too; we might be getting adverts in Dame Emily Park in Ashton or Eastville Park but I don’t suppose we will be seeing them on the Downs any time soon…

 The idea of putting advertising in parks is really a crazy one and I really challenge anyone of whatever political persuasion to look in their heart and say it is a good one. To paraphrase the Nike slogan; Just don’t do it!"

Background:

  • While income predicted from the introduction of advertising in parks is £50k and Cllr Combley’s amendment estimated a £30k income, both are simple estimates and Cllr Combley’s estimate was cautious, predicting that only around half of those who currently have a free permit would pay for one. In her speech to Council proposing the amendment, Cllr Combley said: “In reality, I think £30k is conservative and it would likely be more. If those who spoke against my similar amendment last year are to be believed, the ability to park behind City Hall is so vital that at a price of less than £2 per day we can reasonably expect the take-up to be much higher.”

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