Countryside `under threat from advertising clutter'

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The Independent Online
For decades the British countryside has had a more tranquil air than the rural areas of France or the United States. But conservation groups say that Government proposals to relax controls on advertising are about to change that.

After crossing the Channel the difference is immediately apparent. French roadsides are lined with advertisements for drinks, cars, tyres and in recent years the hypermarkets so beloved by the British.

In the US, main routes across the heart of the continent are disfigured by billboards proclaiming the virtues of Coca Cola, Marlboro, and the like.

Until now more than half of Britain has been protected from such visual intrusion by being declared "Areas of Special Control of Advertisements" where poster hoardings are banned and other advertisements are strictly regulated. The Government is now planning to relax these controls by abolishing the special areas and allowing potential advertisers to apply to local authorities for permission to erect hoardings.

The move has enraged conservation organisations such as the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW), which have written to the Government urging it to drop the proposals.

Neil Sinden, national planning campaigner for CPRE, said that the present controls are "one of the great achievements of post-war planning". He added: "The Government's proposals reveal an astonishing disregard for the great public support for strict control over advertising. One of CPRE's earliest successes was the removal of unsightly advertisements in rural areas. We believe it opens the door to the piecemeal introduction of advertising. The proposals are the thin end of the wedge and it is sending out the wrong signals about poster hoardings being all right in rural areas."

Merfyn Williams, director of CPRW, said: "In the relatively small-scale landscapes that characterise rural Wales any intrusion has a serious impact. The uncluttered appearance of rural areas is a crucial component of people's enjoyment of the qualities that make the countryside so special."

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said: "The present extra controls are largely obsolete and alternative controls are available to local authorities. The proposals will not result in a proliferation of posters in the countryside because local authorities have sufficient powers to prevent this."

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