Why activists are on a mission to remove every advertising billboard in Bristol

‘They’re not good for our city or mental health’

A group of anti-ad activists have outlined their mission to dismantle every billboard across Bristol, claiming that advertisements cause accidents, damage mental health and thwart the city’s ambitions to become ‘net zero’.

Adblock Bristol is lobbying for the city to become an ‘ad-free’ community that utilises space that would normally be used for advertising to champion the work of local artists instead.

The group, which formed in 2017 and sparked a network of similar campaigns across the country, claims to have successfully stopped 23 digital billboard screens from being installed within the city’s boundaries in the last three years.

Adblock gather at a billboard where a digital advertising screen is set to be installed in Bristol.

Members have now turned their attentions to two proposed digital billboards at Glenfrome Road and Muller Road, along with a third billboard near The Arches on Cheltenham Road that residents have deemed ‘recklessly unsafe’.

Speaking to BristolWorld, member Tommy Chavannes said that he believed a world without billboards was safer, healthier and more creative. On one day last week members spent the day covering up billboards advertising airlines.

He added: “Advertising junk food and high carbon products is not something we think is good for our city or mental health.

Campaigners cover up a junk food advertisement in Bristol.

“We want to see green spaces and positive community activities, not constant advertisement blaring out things that we can’t afford.

“Bristol prides itself on progression along with green ideas and technology, but at the same time there are adverts everywhere for the airport expansion, airlines and SUV cars.”

Installing more billboards will only hinder Bristol City Council’s targets to become carbon neutral by 2030, according to Adblock.

This is because they are now not only mostly digital and powered by electricity, they directly encourage residents to increase their emissions.

The group also harbour concerns that billboards on the roadside distract drivers and cause accidents, and have engaged in a separate project to get two digital screens located on the M32 taken down.

Tommy went on: “That whole side of it is crazy as if you were involved in an accident, there would be no way to prove that one of these screens had distracted you.

“Research has been carried out in Israel that shows more accidents happen on roads where there are digitial billboards than without, but to my knowledge no tests of this kind have happened in the UK.”

One of Adblock’s main tasks is breaking down the ‘bureaucracy’ around the planning system by encouraging residents to formally object to proposals that bother them.

“It can be daunting and we want to make it as easy as possible to object to these billboards within a legal framework,” said Tommy.

“And I have to say the response we’ve had is really positive. Often, people don’t know exactly how bad the situation is until they speak to us.”

For more information of Adblock, visit the website.