Guidance for Outdoor Advertisements

The main purpose of this appendix is to set out Council’s detailed guidance to provide a consistent basis against which to consider the display of different categories of advertisements. In drawing up this guidance it is acknowledged that amenity and public safety are the only criteria that can be taken into account in assessing proposals for advertisements.

The guidance is not intended to be overly prescriptive but is intended to advise applicants and commercial companies involved in promoting outdoor advertising how such advertising, if appropriately designed and sited, can contribute towards a quality environment.

General Principles

The key considerations when determining applications for advertisement consent are amenity and highways safety. The following sections seek to provide guidance to help designers ensure that their proposals meet those considerations.

The Character or Appearance of the Area

Advertisements should respect the character or appearance of the locality. In residential areas advertisements will be restricted to business premises, and the minimum amount of advertising should be used. In more commercial areas the Council will take into account the principles listed in these guidelines and seek to ensure that advertisements, either individually or cumulatively, are not damaging to the character and appearance of individual buildings, streets or areas.

The Character and Appearance of Buildings

Advertisements fixed to buildings should be designed to suit the scale, proportions, period, architectural detailing and use of the building. They must not harm the character of the building or obscure architectural features. Illumination will be resisted if it is considered harmful or detracting from the special interest of the building.

Heritage Assets and their Settings

Advertisements on listed buildings require listed building consent, even where advertisement consent is not required, and must be designed and attached to the building with particular care and be positioned to respect and retain the buildings existing architectural detail.

With heritage assets and their settings, a stricter line will be taken on the design, materials, method of illumination, positioning, number, type and scale of advertisements allowed in order to protect special interest. Advertisements will be resisted if they are considered to harm the setting of heritage assets.

On heritage assets illuminated signs will only be permitted where their design is well related to the building and causes no visual or physical harm, consent will not be granted for internally illuminated advertisements within the historic environment.

The Number and Location of Advertisements

An excess of signage is distracting both on amenity and safety grounds and often defeats the purpose of advertisement. The appearance of a large number of advertisements on a building or in a street is often counter-productive as it becomes difficult to pick out individual messages. Similarly, aggressive corporatism will rarely be considered acceptable. For the reasons outlined above the number of advertisements should be kept to the minimum necessary to convey essential information. One fascia sign and one projecting focused at the frontage to premises is often sufficient and significantly lessens the likelihood of harm to amenity or safety.

When preparing designs for new advertisements, the opportunity should be taken to reduce the number of signs and remove those which are redundant. Installations above ground floor level are generally not characteristic of our villages and towns, where they exist, they often cause harm to amenity and safety because of its increased visibility. As a general rule such proposals will be resisted.


Council will generally resist the blanking out of the windows of commercial and retail premises as this has a deadening visual effect which harms amenity and can increase the perception of crime. However, it is accepted that in some locations, especially premises with flank glazing or unusually long glazed frontages, that some blanking out may be necessary. The scale of the designs, content and colour are all key considerations to achieving successful design.

Materials and Content

In general, traditional materials such as painted timber, wrought iron and brass / bronze are often the most appropriate sign finish on traditional or historic buildings. The Council will expect corporate bodies and retail chains to adjust their standard signs in response to the host building and local distinctiveness. Success often depends on the designer's ability. Applicants are encouraged to seek advice from specialist graphic designers.

Simple designs and few words are generally the key to an effective advertisement content. The size of lettering and logos should be in proportion to the detailing of the building. Discretion must be exercised in the application of a corporate image.

Upper Floor Premises

Discrete signage at the ground floor entrance of the premises will normally be supported if well designed. Signs, professionally painted on window glass, are an acceptable method of advertising for businesses operating only from the upper floors of a building. High level signage will normally be resisted on amenity grounds. Advertisement on the glass at this level will only be supported if it does not harm visual amenity or safety.

Digital Advertising Screens

The issues for this sign type are two-fold. Firstly, the brightness and the associated impact and secondly the appearance of the light fittings and associated cables. Amongst other things the brightness of a sign is dependent on the luminance, its size, contrast and the observer. Overly bright signage will be resisted if it harms amenity (light spill, light pollution, glare etc.) or safety.

Digital advertisements are highly controllable, and it is therefore possible to provide recommendations to manage the level of distraction by control of type, brightness, form of change and interval between advertisements, as well as giving detailed consideration to appropriate locations and positioning.

The use of digital advertising screens / electronic display boards will not be acceptable within the historic environment, for example within or adjacent to a conservation area or ATC or on or within the setting of a listed building.

Minimum Message Display Duration

Where consent is granted for a digital advertising screen, they should only display static images and should not contain moving images. The rate of change between successive displays should not be instantaneous and should not include the sequencing of images over more than one advert or a message sequence, where a message is spread across more than one screen image. The minimum duration any image shall be displayed shall be determined by the Council.

The minimum message display duration should ensure that the majority of approaching drivers do not see more than two messages. The minimum message display duration of each image shall be calculated by dividing the maximum sight distance to the digital advertisement (metres) by the speed limit (metres/second) of the road.

Display Screen Form and Message Sequencing

Digital Advertising should not contain moving images or sequencing of images over more than one advert. There should be no message sequencing where a message is spread across more than one screen image.

Where the advert is visible in the same view as traffic signals, the timing of the signals should where possible be taken into account when calculating the message display.

The Rate of Change

Research has shown that the period of change is an area where there could be some additional distraction to drivers. The intervals between successive displays should be essentially zero, as a slow merge or bright-dark-bright sequence is more visually compelling than a bright-bright sequence and hence has more potential for distraction.

It is recommended that the rate of change should best be set to be in effect instantaneous. This could be controlled by condition with a view that such a condition could be altered by agreement in the future if alternative guidance is provided.


The luminance of the screen should be controlled by light sensors which automatically adjust screen brightness for ambient light levels, in order to avoid glare at night and facilitate legibility during daytime. The proposed advertising screen should generally comply with the Institute of Lighting Professionals’ guidance PLG05, ‘The Brightness of Illuminated Advertisements’. Maximum night time luminance of the digital screen must not exceed the appropriate value from Table 4 of PLG05, which must be considered in conjunction with the environmental zones as defined in Table 3 of PLG 05. Proposed luminance levels and control arrangements are to be agreed by the Department for Infrastructure – Roads.

Advertisements shall not resemble traffic signs or provide directional advice. Road Traffic Regulation (NI) Order 1997 makes it an offence to display any sign which resembles a traffic sign on or near a public road.

Poster Panel Displays

Poster panel displays do not generally relate directly to the land or premises on which they are located. They comprise the more traditional paper posters on panels or hoardings, either freestanding or attached to buildings, modern displays, including moving prismatic panels, and internally illuminated PVC faced panels.

Poster panel displays are a common feature of urban advertising and rely on size and siting for their impact. As a result they have the potential to be over dominant and obtrusive in the street scene. There is a need therefore to ensure that such displays respect the scale of their surroundings. Equally there is a need to prevent clutter and the undue dominance of such advertisements over other uses of land.

Heritage Assets and the Countryside

Poster panel displays are out of place in the countryside, within conservation areas, ATC’s or when placed on or within the setting of a listed buildings and will not be considered unacceptable. An exception may be made where the display advertises a particular event, such as a local agricultural show or fair and is restricted by planning condition to a specified time period.

Villages and Small Settlements

Large scale poster panel displays are generally out of place in villages and small settlements because of their potential to detrimentally impact on the visual amenity of these locations. Smaller poster panels may be acceptable depending on their size and on the scale and character of the village. The position and siting of such signage should respect the size, scale and character of surrounding buildings and features.

Residential Areas

Poster panel displays are out of place in any predominantly residential locality. The priority in residential areas is to maintain local character and environmental quality and to protect the amenity of residents. The size, scale and intrusive nature of poster panel displays therefore make them generally unacceptable. An exception may be made for the display of a poster panel on bus shelters in residential areas where there will be no significant impact on the amenity of adjacent residents.

Predominantly Commercial Areas

In commercial areas the scale of buildings may be sufficiently large to accommodate poster panel displays without adverse effect on visual amenity. The scale of commercial and industrial surroundings in our towns can however vary greatly, often within short distances. It will be expected therefore that the scale of advertisement displays should respect the scale of adjacent buildings and the wider area.

Where an area is in mixed use, with shops and offices interspersed with residential properties, poster panel displays may on occasion be acceptable. They should be carefully related to the size and scale of surrounding buildings and designed in a manner that will not damage visual amenity or prejudice public safety.

Advertisements on Railings

Railings are transparent by nature, allowing views through into gardens etc. Many examples are ornate, and they generally contribute to our sense of place. Whilst proposals will be considered on an individual basis the fixing or advertisements to railings or the draping of banners from railings obscure their positive qualities and are likely to be considered harmful to visual amenity and will be considered unacceptable.

Freestanding Advertisement Displays

Large freestanding panels (generally 48 sheet displays or greater) are commonly used to screen derelict and untidy land. These sites can be a potential eyesore and in many cases a carefully designed scheme for screening that integrates advertisement panels can often prevent fly tipping, vandalism and help ensure security. Such schemes need to be well maintained and will generally only be acceptable on a temporary basis.

Freestanding displays are also often found at ports and other gateway locations where they generally provide information on the locality, local events and services.

Design Guidelines:

  • the number, scale, proportions and design of freestanding advertisement panels should respect the site and its surrounding area. In particular where these are situated at the back edge of the pavement, or in other prominent locations, care will be needed to ensure that their effect on pedestrians is not overwhelming;
  • panel displays should be integrated into a well-designed scheme of good quality screening which allows for visual breaks between each panel. Areas to the sides of and around the hoardings should be considered with as much care as the display itself;
  • wherever possible, good quality hard and soft landscaping should form part of the proposal and should be of sufficient scale to assist integration of the panel by reducing the visual impact of the overall display; and
  • where the rear of the advertising panel is visible from surrounding roads or properties it should be appropriately treated.

Gable Mounted Advertisement Displays

Large scale poster panels (generally 48 sheet displays) located on gables are a common feature in the predominantly commercial parts of our towns and may offer benefits, such as screening an untidy gable. Care however needs to be taken with such proposals to ensure they are not over dominant and relate well to the building on which they are proposed to be positioned.

Design Guidelines:

  • the form, design, size, proportions and siting of a wall mounted poster panel should be sympathetic to the building to which it is to be attached;
  • the panel should generally be above ground floor level on the gable and be symmetrical with the wall on which it is to be positioned;
  • interesting features, for example architectural details, should not be obscured or destroyed; and
  • windows should not be covered, and the normal functioning of the building should not be adversely affected.

Tiers of advertisement poster panels affecting the gable or flank wall of a building should be avoided as they can have a significant detrimental impact over long distance views, whilst more local views can appear cluttered.

The guidance above also applies to large electronic screen displays and to freestanding panels in front of a gable or flank wall of a building.

Shroud Advertisement Displays

Shroud advertisement displays are a relatively new form of advertising. They are known by a variety of names such as meshes, wraparounds or blow–up signs. They range in size, but are generally large-scale and can cover the whole of an elevation of a building. They can even be used to present an image of what a building will look like when alterations, renovations or building works have been completed.

In view of their scale and size, shroud advertisements have the potential to seriously conflict with the visual amenity of the buildings upon which the display is situated and the area in which buildings are sited. Accordingly, proposals for this type of advertisement are only likely to be acceptable in commercial areas, where they are to be attached to scaffolding surrounding a building or development site and where a contract has been drawn up for the building or renovation works.

Temporary shroud advertisements are unacceptable in principle where the elevation on which the advertisement is proposed is not being refurbished and / or not being scaffolded as there is no reasonable justification for the shroud itself. Similarly, the refurbishment of the rear or interior of a building is not considered adequate justification for the erection of temporary shroud advertisements on street facing elevations.

To prevent clutter, account will be taken of the number of similar proposals located within the vicinity of the site and others that have the benefit of advertisement consent.

Signs on Commercial Premises

Signs and advertisements on commercial premises are important in announcing the presence of a business in the street and in directing customers to that location and can assist the vibrancy of our town centres and other commercial areas. When sympathetically sited and designed they can contribute positively to the distinctive visual amenity of an area by giving a sense of quality and permanence.

The most common signs on commercial premises are fascia signs and projecting signs, either box or hanging. Their design should always complement the design of the shopfront and building and respect the wider locality. An excessive number of signs or those which are too large can dramatically affect the premises on which they are sited and have an adverse impact on the general character of the area.

Fascia Signs

The objective in this instance is to limit shop signage to its traditional location – on the fascias above the shop window. As the majority of our shops are in groups or terraces the approach aims to maintain or reinstate a degree of group unity. The restriction on the size and number of projecting / hanging signs is to prevent harmful visual clutter or excessively large projecting signs.

Well-designed fascia signs can contribute greatly to the character of an area. Standard corporate signage solutions may have to be modified to suit the host building and the locality, especially on historic buildings or in conservation areas; the visual cloning of shopping areas is a threat to local distinctiveness and will be resisted.

A key problem with shop signage on long-established premises is the build-up of layers of signs over time. Box signs in particular often obscure traditional features by extending outwards and often downwards too. When designing new signage, the Council will expect the applicant to have carefully examined the premises to understand the original form and designed the new sign to respond positively to it.

When existing shop fascias are too deep the adverse impact of new signage can be reduced by introducing a sub-fascia and or a sur-fascia. However, if the shop front is to be replaced the ideal scenario should always be the reduction of the depth of the fascia through an increase in the height of the shop glazing.

Design Guidelines:

  • fascia signs should be of an appropriate size, and sited and designed to harmonise with the shop front, the façade of the building and any detailing thereon;
  • where there is an original fascia, the sign should make use of this with generally no advertising at sub-fascia level or on pilasters or columns;
  • where a new commercial building is proposed, the location of fascia signage should be integrated into the overall design;
  • on older and more traditionally styled buildings, painted signs or non-illuminated letters are preferable to panels or other types of display;
  • internal illumination should preferably be in the form of individually backlit letters; and
  • where external illumination is proposed, trough lighting is preferred. The trough should extend over the whole fascia and be painted to integrate it into the whole display.

Projecting Signs

Projecting signs can often adversely affect the character of buildings or the appearance of an area and will therefore require very careful consideration. Where their presence is considered acceptable particular attention will be paid to size, design and materials. In most situations signs and advertisements displayed on listed buildings should not be illuminated. Where illumination is justified it should be achieved unobtrusively and light fittings mounted above and projecting forward of the sign will not be acceptable.

Design Guidelines:

  • projecting signs should be sympathetic to the design of the building where they are to be displayed and respect fascia signage;
  • box signs should be located at fascia level and are generally best situated at the end of the fascia;
  • hanging signs may be acceptable at first floor level and are generally best situated in a central position between windows;
  • to reduce visual clutter a projecting sign will generally only be acceptable where there is no other projecting advertisement such as a canopy, awning, flag or horizontal banner;
  • internal illumination should preferably be in the form of individually backlit letters;
  • where external illumination is proposed trough lighting is preferred with the trough painted out;
  • projecting signs should generally project no more than 1 metre including fixings, with a maximum end width of no more than 0.1m in the case of a box sign;
  • projecting signs should be a minimum of 2.25m above ground level in the interests of public safety; and
  • illuminated projecting signs are generally unacceptable immediately adjacent to a neighbouring residential property.

Blinds and Awnings

Originally the function of blinds was to protect perishable goods from deterioration due to strong sunlight. Today however blinds, awnings and canopies are increasingly used as a means to provide additional advertising. Blinds that are well designed can improve the attractiveness of a building or street. Poorly designed or prominently located blinds or canopies displaying advertising can however detract from the appearance of buildings, the surrounding neighbourhood, and can result in clutter. They are particularly obtrusive when located above windows on upper floors and should be avoided.

Design Guidelines:

  • blinds and awnings should be retractable, made from non-reflective material and be designed to integrate with the appearance and construction of the shopfront as a whole; and
  • such blinds should be a minimum of 2.25m above ground level in the interests of public safety.

Advertisements on Upper Floors

Where commercial premises occupy the upper floors of buildings the need to advertise their whereabouts can be important to their viability. Great care needs to be taken in considering how this can be achieved without the exterior of the building appearing cluttered. Fascia signs, panel style signs, canopies, flags and banners are generally out of place on upper floors.

Discrete signage at the ground floor entrance of the premises will normally be supported if well designed. Signs, professionally painted on window glass, are an acceptable method of advertising for businesses operating only from the upper floors of a building. High level signage will normally be resisted on amenity grounds. Advertisement on the glass at this level will only be supported if it does not harm visual amenity or safety.

Design Guidelines:

  • advertising on upper floors should be printed or etched onto the glass or on to internal window blinds. As an alternative, individual letters rather than an advertisement panel may be suspended behind the glass.

These guidelines also apply to commercial premises on ground floors wishing to advertise on upper floors.

High Level Signs

High level signs generally relate to those vertical or horizontal signs on the walls of tall, single use buildings such as hotels. If not treated with great sensitivity, they have the potential to give the appearance of clutter within the local street scene and be obtrusive and dominant over long distances particularly when located on roofs.

Design Guidelines:

  • high level signs will generally only be appropriate where they relate to the scale and primary use of the host building;
  • they should be designed to be read as part of the building and should not detract from any architectural feature;
  • they should not project above the eaves or parapet of the host building; and
  • they should have only the lettering illuminated.

Offices in Former Residential Properties

In predominantly residential areas, where offices occupy part or all of a former residential property, it is essential that advertising remains unobtrusive in order that the residential amenity of the area is not prejudiced. Even in situations where offices occupy a row of former residential properties it will generally still be important to retain the overall residential appearance of the area. A more flexible approach will however be considered in those areas where, through ongoing change, surroundings have become mainly commercial.

Design Guidelines:

  • the advertisement of offices in former residential properties should be by means of nameplates made of metal or other suitable materials and should be fixed to the doorway pilaster, or if there is no pilaster, they may be fixed to the masonry beside the front door; and
  • painted or etched lettering on a front window will also generally be acceptable.

Signs at Retail and Business Parks

In retail parks and business parks the uncoordinated display of advance advertisements or ad hoc directional signs to individual businesses, which bears no direct relationship to the building, land or structure upon which it is displayed is often confusing, untidy and detrimental to the appearance of an area. There is great potential for all advertising associated with retail or business parks to be undertaken in a planned and co-ordinated manner. Ideally the fascia signs for individual premises should form an integral part of the building, while a single carefully designed directory board located at the entrance to the park or in other acceptable locations can avoid a proliferation of advance signs.

Design Guidelines:

  • all new buildings in a retail or business park should incorporate a signing zone as part of the design;
  • fascia and projecting signs should be in scale with the host building and surrounding buildings and be consistent across the whole unit; and
  • advance signage should be provided in the form of a combined directory board within a proposed or existing landscaped area designed and integrated as one scheme.

Signs at Filling Stations and on Forecourts

Signage at filling stations usually comprises a combination of a canopy, a pole/pylon, and shop fascia signage together with a number of smaller forecourt signs. In view of the range of signs involved there is often potential for their cumulative effect to result in clutter. To help prevent this a co-ordinated approach should be taken when bringing forward proposals, particularly where existing signage is being replaced.

Particular care is needed in assessing proposals for illuminated advertisements at filling stations located adjacent to or near residential properties.

Design Guidelines:

  • all signs should be in scale with their surroundings and not detract from the amenity of the surrounding area;
  • illumination should generally be restricted to the sign lettering and logo; and
  • freestanding signs should be located so as not to interfere with or obstruct sightlines.

Pylon and Pole Mounted Signs

Pylon and pole mounted signs are a common feature at petrol filling stations. Increasingly they are found in association with drive-through restaurants, supermarkets, retail warehousing, retail parks and car showrooms.

The height, size and levels of illumination of these signs may result in visual intrusion within the locality where they are situated. They can be extremely dominant over long distances and detract not only from the character and appearance of the area in which they are sited but also that of the area from which they are viewed. In addition, where they are proposed close to residential properties, they can be detrimental to amenities enjoyed by local residents.

Design Guidelines:

  • pylon and pole mounted signs should be in scale with their surroundings and they should not significantly exceed surrounding building heights;
  • they should not detract from the visual amenity or character of the surrounding area;
  • they should not be sited adjacent to, and wherever possible should not directly face residential properties; and
  • illumination should generally be restricted to the sign lettering and logo.

Estate Agents' Signage

Temporary signs, announcing that a property is for sale or letting, within certain specified limits as set out in the Advertisements Regulations, can generally be erected without consent (with important limitations). In recent years however, the Council has become increasingly aware about the proliferation of such boards, especially in commercial areas with high concentrations of rental properties. Action can be taken, where necessary to secure removal.

Mobile Advertisements

The display of an advertisement stationed on a trailer or other mobile equipment, which is principally used, or designed or adapted principally for use, for the display of advertisements, without the express consent of Council is a breach of advertisement control.

Such unauthorised mobile advertising is often sited close to the roadside and can have serious implications for road safety. It can cause distraction to drivers and impede visibility. In addition, it is generally visually intrusive and can significantly detract from amenity.

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