Financial Times

Hoardings out before SAARC summit
Some 1,200 advertising structures to be pulled down
By Bandula Sirimanna

SC guidelines
The Supreme Court earlier issued a set of guidelines for advertising hoardings in the city following a legal action taken against some unauthorised structures. Some of the key points are:

• The sizes allowed for single side display hoardings are 20ftx10ft or 15ftx10ft

• Only single-pole hoardings should carry these advertisements

• The fixtures are not allowed near universities or schools, cemeteries, places of religious worship, buildings of national importance and diplomatic missions, or alongside monuments.

• The fixtures should not be displayed within roundabouts, traffic diversion islands, public parks or centre medium (centre islands)

All advertising hoardings at every intersection, street curve and in the middle of every available pavement space in Colombo will be removed – lock, stock and barrel - by July 15 ahead of the July 28 SAARC Summit with the intention of showings a clean city amidst protests from advertising agencies, Colombo Municipality (CMC) officials said.

The CMC has issued a notice to all advertising agencies to remove these hoardings on or before this date and if they fail to do so the council will remove it with all the structures. In such a case, the agencies will have to pay Rs.14,000 +15% VAT per hoarding as removal charges to obtain the removed structure from the workshop of the council. This action has been taken by the CMC to comply with an interim order issued by the Supreme Court.

Acting Municipal Commissioner J.M. Bhadrani Jayawardane told The Sunday Times FT that around 1,200 hoardings displayed in the city are illegal as the CMC has not issued letters of authorization for this year and due fees have not been paid to the council. Most violate standard dimensions in CMC guidelines. She said that another objective is to beautify the city before the SAARC summit in end July. Ms. Jayawardane pointed out that the council has incurred a loss of revenue of over Rs 24 million so far as the advertising agencies and other relevant parties have failed to pay the monthly rental. She said that once these hoardings are removed the advertising agencies have no rights to claim the possession of previous locations within road reservations maintained by the CMC.

However she noted that permission will be granted to erect hoardings in the future in accordance with the set of guidelines issued by the CMC in accordance with the Supreme Court directive. Ms Jayawardane disclosed that a new scheme and procedure for advertising in Colombo is to be introduced by the CMC. Although many lakhs of rupees are being charged by advertising agents from their clients only a paltry sum is paid to the Colombo Municipality, she said.

Former Colombo Deputy Mayor Azaath Salley, who has been involved in the issue for some time, said there are a number of hoardings of which the reference number has expired or has been duplicated and some that have been approved for one location but have been given to another. He pointed out that the CMC authorities were in the practice of “haphazardly” approving the hoardings around Colombo. He said the hoardings bring a lucrative income to advertising companies who have a 'special relationship' with some officials of the council.

Rejecting these allegations, the head of a leading advertising agency, a pioneer in the outdoor advertising business in Sri Lanka, said that they have strongly protested over this decision as the CMC has not given sufficient time even to make their representations on this matter. He asked as to why the authorities of the council had waited six months to remove the hoardings if the agencies had failed to pay their monthly rental. He pointed out that the municipality should conduct an internal investigation on the collection of this money by its officers before accusing the agencies. He disclosed that the CMC had rented out a single location to several ad agencies and that is why more than one hoarding is erected close to each other creating a city full of hoardings .

There are around 50 small scale companies engaged in designing, digital printing and erecting advertising hoardings. The advertising agencies are out ourcing such companies to turn out hoardings in accordance with the requirements of their clients. The hoarding issue has become a heated one which gathered momentum over the past few months with the security threat hanging over the city of Colombo and suburbs as remote controlled explosive devices could be easily fixed on to the reverse of the hoardings. A senior Police officer told The Sunday Times FT that they also made representations to the authorities not to permit these hoardings to be installed close to junctions or by the side of the roads as remote controlled explosive devices could be easily fixed on to the reverse of the hoardings. The general public has also complained against the hoardings, saying that they could cause physical injury to pedestrians.

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