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The view from inside a home near the sign. Diana O'Dwyer
digital signage

Company behind controversial LED billboard to lower lighting this evening following complaints

At least one advertiser has pulled its ads due to the impact on residents.

LAST UPDATE | 14 Sep 2022

THE COMPANY BEHIND a controversial LED billboard in Rathmines is to have the brightness of the sign lowered after dark tonight.

The billboard on the Lower Rathmines Road is currently so bright at night that one local resident has had to move to another room in her house to sleep. The ads on the site change every 10 seconds, and are different colours.

When a representative of the Dublin-based outdoor advertising company which installed the billboard was reached this afternoon, he told The Journal that the board had received “full planning [permission]“.

He said that the night time brightness of the sign in Rathmines was just 5% of its full brightness at night.

But he said that tonight, the company will look at further lowering the lighting. 

It will also look at the transition between the ads on the billboard, which are supposed to have a ‘fade transition’. This fade was queried by residents living in the terrace right next to the billboard.

The billboard owner also said that for 40 years the site had previously had a traditional billboard which had flood lights which were as bright as the LED light. However, this is likely to be disputed by residents who spoke to The Journal about the sudden impact of the LED lighting on their homes. 

The owner said he is willing to work with locals and is hoping to sort out the situation.  

Residents and local councillors told The Journal earlier that they questioned how the billboard received planning permission, and why the people living in the terrace next to the sign weren’t told it was being switched on.

Dublin City Council’s traffic department is also understood to be looking into concerns about whether the sign could be a potential distraction for motorists. 

And as of this afternoon, at least one advertiser has pulled their ad from the billboard. The advertisers don’t control the conditions or placement of the billboard, but their ads are hosted on it. 

A spokesperson for Sky Ireland, which is one of six advertisers featured on the billboard, said of its decision:

“The billboard in question and its positioning is a matter for its owners and relevant planning authorities. However, as a result of the impact this billboard is having on local residents, we will be withdrawing our ad from the site.”

It’s understood some of the other ads on the signage are no longer displaying in recent hours.

‘None of the neighbours knew it was coming’

The 6m high and 6m wide digital display sign, which changes image every 10 seconds, was placed at the gable end of 284 Rathmines Road Lower. In line with the outdoor advertising policy of Dublin City Council, in order for this billboard in Rathmines to be installed, outdoor signage at 94 Dorset St Upper had to be removed.

The older sign on the Rathmines site was a traditional poster billboard, and was also 6m high and 6m wide. 

Under planning law, a planning notice must be provided near the site, which did happen in this case. However, one local resident told The Journal she had not seen the notice, while a local councillor pointed out that the scale and brightness of the billboard would not have been obvious from the notice itself. 

Diana O’Dwyer, who has lived on the terrace next to the billboard for the past four years, told The Journal that her family came home last weekend to find the billboard in place.

“There was always a billboard there – it was a regular billboard and there was always people putting stuff on it, as well as construction work in the building underneath it. There were always people coming and going on the roof [below my house] so I didn’t realise what people were doing was installing this electric billboard,” she explained.

“I just can’t believe it,” she said. “None of the neighbours knew it was coming.”

She said that the sign is extremely bright, particularly at night. “It’s so bright that even when you have the shutters completely closed on the top floor, which is where my kids sleep, the light just flashes every 10 seconds when the ad changes.”

“It’s just unbelievable that they can do that without telling you,” added O’Dwyer. “It’s on 24 hours a day so even in daylight if you’re sitting in the sitting room, it’s so bright you can see all the ads changing. It’s constantly intrusive.”

The planning permission given for the sign said that the display should have a “fade transition” between the ads every 10 seconds or more, and that any change to the nature of the display is subject to planning permission.

Diana O’Dwyer questioned whether the transition was a ‘fade transition’ given her experience of the ads. Her video of the transition can be seen in this clip here:

She has started to sleep in the back of the house to avoid the bright light, although the light does reflect onto part of her back garden, so she can’t completely avoid it. 

“It’s so bright you think the sun has come up, or it’s lightning,” said O’Dwyer. 

The light is so bright it bounces off wall at the end of the terrace and you can see it at the back of the house. 

She said that the ad doesn’t seem any more dim at night.

Here is the view with the shutters closed in the house: / YouTube

O’Dwyer said that the residents of an area where such a digital billboard is planned should have to be asked for their permission for it to be installed.

She is worried about the impact of the light on her and her family, and has made an appointment with a service for installing blackout blinds.

She also raised fears about the sign distracting motorists, and said that “at night the light bounces around and lights up the area”. 

Planning approval

An Bord Pleanála said in its decision granting approval for the signage: 

“…it is considered that the replacement sign on the gable end of number 284 Rathmines Road Lower, would achieve an acceptable balance between providing advertising on a thoroughfare where billboard advertising exists and the protection of the amenities of the area.”

It said that the sign would be in accordance with the Outdoor Advertising Strategy in the council’s current development plan and that it would not be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area. 

But local Green Party councillor Carolyn Moore told The Journal that she is also concerned about the billboard and has been following it up with the council and planning authority.

She said that per the terms of the planning permission granted, DCC stipulated (and An Bord Pleanala upheld) that the luminescence should not exceed 250 candelas per sq m and stated this should be reviewed within 12 months. She has requested this be urgently measured and reviewed with regard to the impact that it’s having on adjacent homes.

She also asked the council to urgently review the transition between the ads. 

Moore also said that the Development Plan appendix 17 Advertising and Signage Strategy lists Rathmines as ‘predominantly residential’, and outlines where this kind of signage is acceptable or not. It’s not acceptable in areas of sensitivity, conservation areas, protected structures, residential and amenity areas. Because of this, she questioned how such a digital display got permission, and is seeking more information on this. 

“I think it’s completely the wrong direction to go in for advertising in the city generally, and particularly for what we consider to be essentially an urban village – Rathmines is a large urban centre, but is an urban village at the same time,” said Moore. 

“From a visual clutter perspective and aesthetic perspective, I think it’s very wrong to move into this area of digital advertising.”

She said that LED advertising and billboards have “an element of visual obtrusiveness that digital backlit and paper advertising simply doesn’t”.

rathmines 2 The previous billboard, with residential homes visible next to it. Google Maps Google Maps

She also raised concerns about how much energy these billboards use, given the government’s attempt to reduce the country’s electricity usage during the energy crisis. She said that from an energy perspective these types of panels can use large amounts of electricity, similar to that of multiple homes.

A study in Manchester found that electronic ad boards in that city each used the electricity of three households per year. 

“It’s fairly high energy usage. LED street lighting is a significantly lower energy usage than halogen street lights,” added Moore. “This LED panel with that level of brightness, I would definitely be looking into and questioning whether that’s a good use of energy at this moment in time.”

She said that while the sign has gone through the planning process, “a lot of people wouldn’t have necessarily caught that was what was headed their way” in terms of the effect of the sign.

Moore said it would be possible to put in an objection to the council at this stage.

“Not alone is it impacting on people’s quality of living in their homes, but from the point of view of it being at a very busy intersection, the impact on traffic – that is not ideal either,” said Moore. “I really was genuinely shocked.”

Moore said that she had missed the initial planning application, but even if she had seen it, it is hard to “perceive just how bright and obstructive it was going to be” from the written details.

Work is currently ongoing on the next Dublin city development plan and Moore said that the Green Party had put in a motion around limiting the use of digital and LED displays “for all of those reasons – and even at that we couldn’t have imagined that a wall-mounted unit would be that bright, and that distracing and that obtrusive”.

rathmines 1 A previous billboard, with the terrace of houses next door visible. Google Maps Google Maps

‘They need to be regulated properly’

Cllr Mannix Flynn was one of those who submitted an objection to this signage in Rathmines. He told The Journal that “the planning policy, in relation to planning policy in Dublin and Ireland, is all over the place”, describing it as a “very loose-ended policy” and “not necessarily robust”.

He is not opposed to such signs, but despite not being a councillor for the area he submitted the objection. “I am not opposed to them but I think they need to be regulated properly,” he said.

Flynn noted that there were planning notices published for the sign in advance.”The problem we have is the residents didn’t see the planning notice. We need to ascertain were the planning notice was,” he said. 

“It is a product that is here to stay, not a product that is going away,” said Flynn of digital LED signage like this. “The problem is the local people didn’t see [the planning notices], and they say Dublin City Council as the planning authority didn’t knock on the doors and wasn’t proactive.”

He said there needs to be a special consideration for these screens, particularly in residential areas. “The major issue here is Dublin City Council does not have a clear policy in relation to them,” said Flynn.

It’s here to stay – it’s a welcome industry but it needs to be regulated in a proper way and have proper planning policies.

He pointed out that digital advertising has been increasing in Dublin city, including small signage in shop windows, and the ‘phone box’ style LED displays on streets.

He said that, for example, where there is such a sign going up within a residential area, criteria could include that the applicant would have to inform the people living nearby. 

He has previously worked with the reduction of pixels on a sign on Cuffe St, to make it less impactful, and says changes can be made to such digital signage. 

“As a councillor I was adamant as to what the impact was here [in Rathmines] and Dublin City Council in their wisdom decided to go ahead with the sign,” he said.

The Journal has contacted the company which received the planning permission for the billboard, but has not heard back before publishing.

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