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Yesterday Joshua Surtees examined the issues thrown up by the electronic billboard that now overlooks the Magnificent Seven buildings alongside the Queen’s Park Savannah. Will the new planning bill keep these hoardings out of beauty spots, or is the march of the billboards unstoppable?
New planning act to clear up confusion
Minister of Planning Dr Bhoe Tewarie said he had carefully looked into the issue of billboards around the country, as it was a matter he found concerning, in particular the emergence of many apparently unauthorised hoardings on the Lady Young Road, where an enormous frame at the lookout is apparently awaiting an ad which would obscure the view.
Tewarie said local government had the power to immediately serve stop notices, whereas the ministry had to undertake a lengthy court process to remove ads and fine offenders.
“It is a problem we are trying to change with the new planning bill currently before the House,” he said. “We want to create conditions where advertisements are controlled as a planning matter.”
Stara Ramlogan, acting head of Town and Country Planning, provided the T&T Guardian with some clarity on the legislation and enforcement of advertising.
Speaking about the apparent overlap of different acts, she said three acts pertained to hoardings and billboards.
At present, all applications to erect new billboards should be made via the Town and Country Division, but that rarely happened.
“The Town and Country Planning Act refers to land use and amenities; the Municipal Corporations Act refers to a hoarding’s structural integrity; the Highways Act relates to motorists and public safety,” she said. “Speaking as a public servant I can provide information on the legislative side of things. We have the Planning and Facilitation of Development Bill, which is currently before a joint select committee and will replace the existing act, which is very old.”
An advertising policy document will be attached to the new act, replacing the old regulations.
The T&T Guardian got a sneak preview of the new regulations which include a fundamental change in how things are controlled. The proposal is that ad legislation will be handed over to municipal planning authorities to monitor and enforce.
“This will mean regional corporations can impose their own standards appropriate to their local environment and urban design guides,” Ramlogan said. “They would also be responsible for consultation with local stakeholders (such as the Citizens for Conservation (CFC)).”
Third-party rights are also included in the policy, giving stakeholders the chance to object to specific applications.
“But the amenity value of an area is subjective.
“Some hold the environment up as all-important and adhere to those values, while others are less concerned.”
She confirmed that the select committee would consider and balance the interests of both heritage conservationists and the advertising industry, for which public space and visible skylines are prime inventory.
As things stand, advertising agencies appear to have carte blanche to erect more signs, knowing that for them to be taken down a complainant must take out a court order, which can take months to action.
Once a court date has been set, the company has time to take down the offending sign. In the case of convictions, the fines are paltry.
In 2005, Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis ordered the Ministry of Works and Transport to begin demolishing billboards that belonged to the Outdoor Advertising Association. Three were taken down but she was prevented from continuing the action by an injunction from the civil court.
No billboards—by law
The existing regulations set out a schedule of over 50 stretches of road where it is illegal to place advertisements.
It includes areas of natural beauty and prestige such as:
• Lady Chancellor Road
• Toco Main Road
• Maracas road
• Mayaro beach
• Macqueripe bay
• Blue Basin road
Suburban roads like:
• Cascade Road
• Long Circular Road
• Fort George Road and
• Sydenham Avenue.
It also includes:
• Churchill-Roosevelt Highway
• Lady Young Road and
• The Queen’s Park Savannah.
The government policy on outdoor advertising, written in 2004, stipulates:
“One of the objectives of the act is to...maintain an attractive environment for the benefit of the local population and visitors/tourists. The proliferation of billboards... creates visual clutter that detracts from the general scenic quality in the area where they are displayed. Signs/billboards are visually intrusive and may obscure vistas and buildings of historic or architectural interest and change the character of a neighbourhood or community. Research has shown that the external and physical appearance of a community directly influences the way its residents feel about their area as well as the way visitors perceive the area.”
By the numbers
A CFC member told the T&T Guardian that on a car journey over the Lady Young Road, along the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway to Piarco, and from Grand Bazaar to Pointe-a-Pierre, she counted and photographed 730 individual billboards.
Between the Port-of-Spain lighthouse and Barataria she counted 68.