Canberrans rail against 'encroachment' of ads with billboard ban changes
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Canberrans rail against 'encroachment' of ads with billboard ban changes

A proposal to relax Canberra's billboard ban has exposed an undercurrent of unease about what critics have dubbed "advertisement by encroachment" in Canberra.

The ACT Legislative Assembly's planning and urban renewal committee's inquiry into billboards attracted a record 163 submissions. The vast majority opposed any softening of the ban.

Ad Free Canberra's cheeky social media campaign drew attention to the billboard inquiry.

Ad Free Canberra's cheeky social media campaign drew attention to the billboard inquiry.

Photo: Ad Free Canberra

However, about one in five touched on advertising on public transport and bus shelters which were outside the terms of reference.

"In recent years, billboard advertising has effectively been introduced by stealth with full wrap advertising on ACTION buses," Reuban Ingall wrote.

"This can obscure the view for passengers causing them to miss their stop - tourist and the vision-impaired are affected the most.

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"The revenue raised from this advertising is a drop in the ocean of ACTION's budget, and so cannot be justified on economic grounds. I am strongly against advertising being included on the light rail for the same reasons."

Kathryn Kelly wrote: "We already have ads on bus shelters which were previously free of these visual insults. This practice should not be extended to other advertising sites."

"Please say no to public advertising (and let's get rid of those useless bus ad 'shelters' too!)," Meg Blackman said.

Tom Thomson described the bus shelter advertising as a "step backwards".

Tim Hollo of Ad Free Canberra claimed not only were people strongly opposed to more advertising in Canberra, it was clear they actually wanted less.

Ad Free Canberra helped to whip up support for keeping the ban through a cheeky social media campaign, featuring 'naked' women. The campaign was run by Dr Lisa Petheram and Deb Cleland.

"People in Canberra feel it's not appropriate for government to sell off public space without consulting," Mr Hollo said.

"If public doesn't want this the government should be listening. I think it's inconceivable now they could go ahead with changing regulations around billboards."

The ACT government signed a contract with Adshel in 2006 for the company to build and maintain bus shelters around the city in exchange for advertising rights. The agreement expires in 2022.

The government gave GoTransit the exclusive rights to run ads inside and outside ACT-owned buses last year. While the exact value of the contract is not published, ACTION made $550,000 from advertising in 2015-16 according to its annual report.

However there are no current plans to run advertising or commercial signage on light rail, according to answers provided to the ACT Legislative Assembly last week.

The committee will soon hold public hearings into the issue of billboards and will report their findings to the Assembly by October 31.

Mr Hollo said the strong response showed the "encroachment of advertising" was not "inevitable".

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"People like to present it as inevitable but it's not, it's only inevitable if people don't stand up," he said.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article stated Tim Hollo of Ad Free Canberra helped to whip up support for the billboard ban through the Keep Canberra Naked Campaign. This campaign was run by Dr Lisa Petheram and Deb Cleland of Ad Free Canberra.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.