Good Food Governance

Adblock Bristol

By Nicola Deschamps

Nicola Deschamps

Nicola Deschamps (ANutr), nutritionist, author, and editor, shares our latest story on Adblock Bristol. The organisation focuses on countering the negative impact of outdoor digital advertising, advocating for fairer planning regulations and promoting community-oriented uses for public spaces. Find out how to get involved.

Adblock Bristol, part of the national Adfree Cities network, is a voluntary group that has been active since 2017. It aims to reduce corporate advertising in public spaces and make Bristol the first city to eliminate billboards entirely.

Corporate advertising by big brands is the primary concern for the group. These are the largest spenders on outdoor advertising, favouring prominent digital billboards that feature six adverts every minute. They often promote gambling, junk food, payday loans, and high-carbon products when the world is facing global health and climate change crises.

The group’s objectives are to stop new outdoor advertising in the city, have existing billboards taken down, advocate a fairer national application planning system, and improve the transparency of local applications so that affected residents are informed beforehand about any planned advertising in their neighbourhood.

Campaigners are advocating reforms to the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 2007, established before large outdoor digital advertising became prevalent. The current regulations are seen as biased towards corporations and do not consider the negative impact of digital billboards. Billboards are intrusive, consume a lot of energy, cause light pollution, and distract drivers, creating a safety hazard.

Currently, advertisers must apply for planning permission from Bristol City Council. However, national regulations limit the council’s power to veto, and appeals can be made against decisions. The council can regulate the content on the public spaces it controls, but not on privately owned sites. Advertisements are more common in areas with lower-income populations, where people already face deprivation, poor air quality, and health problems. Campaigners argue that such advertisements only add to these existing issues.

Adblock Bristol wants to make better use of public spaces in ways that are more meaningful and beneficial to the community, such as promoting community art, a greener kinder food system, showing inspiring messages strengthening community bonds, and creating more space for nature, like planting trees. Their inspiration came from other cities, such as Sao Paolo in Brazil and Grenoble in France, which went ad-free in 2007 and 2015. Transport for London (TfL) restricted junk food advertising on its networks in 2019, and researchers claim that this advertising policy had far-reaching results, including reducing rates of obesity and fewer cases of diabetes and heart disease. Marking a turning point this year was Sheffield City Council’s new Advertising and Sponsorship Policy, ending advertisements and sponsorships contributing to the climate crisis.

Thanks to its campaigning efforts and collaboration with local communities, Adblock Bristol has blocked 40 new large digital billboards. It effectively lobbied Bristol City Council to introduce a new advertisement policy that prohibits advertising unhealthy food and drink, alcohol, gambling, and payday loans and to push for national government reform. The group also supported forming new Adblock groups nationwide, including in Leeds, Norwich, Cardiff, and certain London boroughs such as Lambeth. Currently, the group is focused on removing the M32 digital billboards, which it argues constitute a risk to safety and wellbeing.

Adblock Bristol is a volunteer-run organisation that relies on public donations and small grants. They hold a monthly meeting open to all residents and welcome new volunteers. Artists interested in curating work can contact them at adblockbristol@gmail. Sign up for regular updates at

Nicola Deschamps (ANutr) is a nutritionist, author and editor:

Photos by Rowan’s artwork.

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