Political billboards to be exempted from new regulations

Planning Authority says new draft legal notice will ‘ensure high design standard and address visual impact of outdoor advertisements’

The Planning Authority has published a draft legal notice which will replace the 2016 regulations which laned the Prime Minister in court after the PN said this was a discrimatory legal notice.

Last week, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat denied giving specific instructions for the removal of Nationalist Party billboards, telling a judge that he had no involvement in the drafting of the Legal Notice limiting the time they would be allowed to be on display.

However, the 2016 legal notice will be replaced by a new one which exempts political parties.

The PN had filed a Constitutional case after objecting to a legal notice issued on 3 April 2016 which stipulated that political billboards were only allowed to erected three months before an election. Licence fees of €1,500 - the rate applicable to commercial billboards - would be applied to billboards erected outside that period. 

The new legal notice, which the PA said “sets out new planning parameters  and criteria on outdoor advertising with particular emphasis on billboards” exempts political and village feast advertisements and advertisements displayed on the façade of shops provided the size of the sign is not more than 0.5m2 and is fitted flat against the façade and an advertisement which forms an integral part of an aperture amongst other cases.

If approved, the new law will repeal the 2016 Billboards and Advertisements Regulations, together with the Policy & Design Guidance - Billboards & Signs (2007).

To minimise traffic safety hazards, the regulations also spell out the technical conditions which billboards need to adhere to as identified by Transport Malta. Billboard owners will also be obliged to pay Transport Malta an annual fee of € 1,500, for every permitted billboard.

“These proposed regulations primarily seek to ensure that the display of outdoor advertisements is of a high design standard that will not have an unacceptable visual impact or affect road safety conditions,” the PA said.

The draft regulations include maps of roads where billboards may be located, subject to development permission. In certain cases, the maps clearly indicate the maximum number of billboards that will be allowed. Apart from billboards and subject to the clearance from Transport Malta, the Authority will only consider other outdoor advertisements along arterial and distributor roads not in the list of maps, in business and enterprise hubs and more sensitively in local centres and mixed-use areas.

“The proposed regulations seek to find a balance between the commercial interest of operators and advertisers to publicize their products and activities and the legitimate concerns to protect the environment and to seek to blend this type of ‘development’ into its surroundings,” the PA said.

To ensure better enforcement, the regulations oblige that every billboard will bear the Authority’s reference number in a form that is “permanently, clear and legibly displayed.”

If the PA cannot identify the operator of an illegal billboard, it will have the right to remove the said billboard at the expense of the company to which the advertisement refers to.