Department of Infrastructure amends policy - again - on roadside advertising
THE Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has once more changed its policy on roadside advertising to allow seven screens to be installed on three main routes into Belfast.
A spokesman said that the decision has been taken to facilitate a "pilot....on a trial basis" and to bring in extra income during a period of "constrained" funding.
Exterior, an outdoor media firm, has applied to erect seven large TV-type screens, with a total of four on either side of the M1 at the Bog Meadows and the M2 Foreshore.
A further two are planned for each side of the A2 Sydenham by-pass, near Belfast City Airport, with the final screen set for the A12 Westlink (southbound) at Grosvenor Road.
All of the screens are subject to planning approval by Belfast City Council.
The department had previously opposed roadside advertising, citing safety concerns, although it is not the first time the department has amended its own policy on the issue.
A small number of screens have previously been allowed in Belfast, along Shaftesbury Square and Dublin Road in the city centre.
In 2015 The Irish News reported how the department's predecessor, the Department for Regional Development (DRD) amended the policy to allow signage for the Applegreen motorway service station on the M2.
It was amended despite the department arguing against the move for more than two years.
The DRD was criticised by Ukip MLA David McNarry after it confirmed it was not receiving any payment for the advertising.
Mr McNarry said at the time: "This department doesn't have two dimes to put together. Well done to Applegreen for wiping the eye of the department here."
A policy document from the department states: "There is no conclusive proof that the presence of advertisements is a contributory factor in the cause of road traffic collisions.
"The request also comes at a time when resource funding levels are constrained and when the Departmental Board is open to exploring potential income streams."
The road safety charity BRAKE said the u-turn was "deeply concerning" and urged the department to "reconsider".
The charity told the BBC: "A moment's glance away from the wheel can have catastrophic consequences; in one second a car travelling 50mph will cover 22m (24 yds) or around five car lengths."
A DfI spokeswoman said: "The position in Northern Ireland on roadside advertising has been more restrictive than in many other countries.
"The Department as the Roads Authority has therefore agreed in principle to facilitate a pilot project...the revenue from the pilot will be modest but will be used for road maintenance."
A safety audit on behalf of Exterion and submitted to council said the illumination of roadside screens "could lead to driver distraction" and recommended that the brightness be adjusted in response to natural light changes.