OMA warns Sydney council plans for outdoor ads will hurt economy and are ‘unlawful’

Coca-Cola billboard

The Coca-Cola sign in Kings Cross is one of the most iconic pieces of advertising in Australia

The Outdoor Media Association (OMA) is opposing a draft plan from Sydney City Council to clampdown on outdoor signage in a bid to improve the look of the city.

A Draft Development Control Plan 2015 (DCP) into Signs and Advertisements by Sydney City Council is an effort to “best address the promotional needs of the city’s businesses,” with changes to how and where outdoor advertising can be used in the city, including where electronic billboards are able to be erected.

Among issues highlighted by the outdoor industry body include proposals by the council to have 15 per cent of content space available to the council free of charge, which it claims is “unlawful”.

But in its submission to the council the OMA warned: “This DCP could result in outdated and unchanging signage out of touch with Sydney’s status as a modern and vibrant city.The proposed guidelines will also hurt the OOH advertising economy.

“Advertising plays a fundamental economic role in Australian society, with an overall spend of $11.6 billion in 2014. Last year the OOH industry raised revenue of $602 million, making up approximately 5.2 per cent of advertising spend in Australia.”

The OMA’s 159-page submission which includes supporting statements from Australian Association of National Advertisers’ Simone Brandon, Free TV Australia’s Julie Flynn, The Communications Council’s Tony Hale, Advertising Standards Bureau’s Fiona Jolly and QMS’ Adam Trevena.

Outdoor Media Association CMYK

In its submission it warned the limits would be contrary to the council’s Economic Development Strategy by having “an additional impact on local businesses who utilise Outdoor advertising to promote their business”.

“Currently over 40 per cent of outdoor advertising displayed by OMA members is utilised by retail, tourism and events, all of which are identified by the City in the Economic Development Strategy as being key to economic growth,” it added.

In total the submission highlighted 14 key issues needed to be resolved, including content space being made available to the council which the OMA said is “unlawful”.

“The 15 per cent public benefit requirement proposed in the Draft DCP is unlawful because it constitutes a form of development contribution to be made solely to the Council and that contribution is not included in any of the City of Sydney’s (CoS) section 94 contributions plans. Further, it is not authorised under section 61 of the City of Sydney Act (CoS Act). There is no provision in either the CoS Act or the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW)(EPA Act) that suggests CoS is authorised to obtain development contributions through a DCP,” the OMA said.

The OMA argued the council and the DCP needed to “recognised the current community benefits facilitated by the OOH industry” which last year included a donation of around $22m in free ad space for charities and not-for-profit organisations.

“Invariably, donations from the Outdoor advertising industry enable these organisations to continue their service to the community – by increasing community awareness of their services, recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations from the public. These outcomes would otherwise be difficult to achieve on those organisations’ limited marketing budgets,” the industry body said.

Another key issue the OMA flagged was the introduction of blanket controls preventing the conversion of static billboards to electronic within certain areas of the city including Millers Point, Circular Quay, Bridge Street, Wynyard, Town Hall, Martin Place, Macquarie Street and College Street East.

The OMA said: “Many of the identified areas are within high frequency public transport areas, which often rely on electronic signage to provide updates on departure and arrival times to multiple destinations.”

On the issue of electronic signage, which many in the outdoor industry see as the future for growth with some already experimenting with programmatic buying, it said: “The proposed DCP is predicated on a base assumption that electronic signs have are a more negative visual impact than static.

“In fact, digital signage can be more visually discrete than static signage as it adapts to ambient light levels. It is also more economically viable to make digital screens available for community messaging due to the incorporated changeability of the medium. In effect, one sign can take on the role of many in less space.”

Other issues the OMA highlighted include a proposed dwell times of 45 seconds for signs, illumination requirements and the introduction of 15 per cent of content space being made available to the City of Sydney free of cost for the display of community messages.

The OMA believes if the suggested amendments are made “the City of Sydney will achieve a revised DCP that includes development controls are consistent with higher planning instruments and policies as well as reflecting best practice in terms of safety”.

Miranda Ward


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