Canberra billboard ban: New polling shows disapproval for relaxing of laws
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Canberra billboard ban: New polling shows disapproval for relaxing of laws

Anti-billboard activists are calling on the ACT government to maintain billboard advertising restrictions as new polling shows strong disapproval for the loosening of existing laws.

More than half of Canberrans polled by Lonergan Research said they disliked or "disliked a lot" billboard advertising in their everyday life.

Deb Cleland poses in a cheeky social media campaign hoping to keep Canberra 'nude' - billboard-free.

Deb Cleland poses in a cheeky social media campaign hoping to keep Canberra 'nude' - billboard-free. Credit:Lisa Petheran

Sixty-nine per cent agreed or strongly agreed that outdoor advertising reduced the quality of public spaces, while 78 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that Canberra's advertising-free environment made it a more pleasant place to live than other, bigger cities.

Forty-eight per cent of respondents believed the government should actually decrease public space available for advertising and 42 per cent believed it should stay the same. Just 9 per cent supported an increase.

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The polling was commissioned by The Green Institute, an environmental think headed by Tim Hollo, also a coordinator of Ad Free Canberra. It followed an ACT government inquiry into billboard advertising which last year attracted a record 166 submissions - the vast majority of which opposed any softening of the ban.

Mr Hollo said the new polling "should knock this silly thought bubble on the head".

"We commissioned this poll because the committee's report clearly did not take the enormous opposition in the submissions seriously," he said.

"Indeed, community representatives were told by certain committee members that they did not believe the submissions were representative of broad community feeling.

"There is a powerful message in here that, as our city grows and develops, with new suburbs, the light rail network and more, Canberrans want to protect our very special advertising-free environment.

"[Chief Minister Andrew] Barr should immediately announce that his government will maintain the strong limits on public space advertising that Canberrans love about our city."

A key recommendation from the Standing Committee on Planning and Urban Renewal's inquiry was that the government undertake a review of and potentially update the current legislation, regulations and codes that apply to signage in the ACT by the end of 2019.

An ACT government spokesman said it would respond to the committee's report within the statutory requirements, understood to be this month. He said the government was looking to "modernise" the regulation of outdoor advertising.

"Regulatory changes will ensure that Canberra will not look like New York's Times Square or even any other Australian city," the spokesman said.

"Prohibition does not work either ... a regulated approach with a small number of regulated advertising sites is the best way forward."

During hearings last year, the ACT government said it could make money from selling advertising space on territory-owned sites but was unable to say whether all of the income would flow to government or whether the private sector would benefit.

It had also not done specific modelling on what revenue it could get from outdoor advertising.

Billboards have been banned from the ACT since the 1930s, although an amendment to the National Capital Plan made in 2000 allowed them to be displayed at Canberra Airport.

The ban has not been strictly enforced in other areas of the city, including near the Canberra Centre, which has argued it was given the thumbs up for billboards as part of its development application.

Almost 1200 Canberrans were polled by Lonergan Research for The Green Institute. Most lived in Tuggeranong or Weston Creek, then Belconnen or Gungahlin. Almost half of respondents were aged 25 to 49.

Emily Baker is a reporter for the Sunday Canberra Times. She previously reported on education for The Canberra Times.