Technology and Signage

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Technology is impacting our lives and the environment in many ways. Increasingly I am getting involved in obtaining planning approval for larger and larger low energy digital (LED) signs. Because technology has made such signs relatively cheap, thinner, lighter and more economical to operate larger signs are being proposed in all sorts of new locations. 

The respective Council Development Plans generally originated decades ago in a time where technology was not so advanced, and LED lighting unheard of. Even though development plans are regularly updated, development plans maybe a little dated in their attitude to the development assessment of such signs. Development Plans generally encourage signage on buildings that are incorporated within the architectural form of the building and not erected above the roof and/or parapet level of the building.

I have been involved in numerous large LED signs proposed for large blank walls in high traffic areas. Often the reaction of the Council Planners is negative based mainly on size even though the proposed sign is framed and in context with the building provided it does not project outwardly from the building, above the roof line or have visible structural supports. But it is size and visual prominence that is the main objection even though the sign is contextual and appropriately framed by the large existing wall. Like with architectural design and the appreciation of fine art such visual issues are often subjective and come down to the individual’s personal taste.

In Times Square in New York and streetscapes in Tokyo electronic signage dominates and all but obscures the architectural form of the buildings to which they are attached. These two environments for example are generally considered vibrant and exciting. Provided such signage is not so bright or flashing as to detract from road safety then greater tolerance of such signage is warranted in my opinion. Our environment is increasingly full of electronic information and signage as electronic information surrounds us, including in our homes with increasingly large television screens and other electronic equipment.

Another issue of contention is often that third party advertising is generally unacceptable. Third party advertising is advertising for products or services that have nothing to do with the land use of the building on which they are located. Lots of Council’s discourage third party advertising by classifying such advertising as Category 3 and non-complying development. Objection to third party advertising is more understandable as advertising that has nothing to do with the land use could be seen as irrelevant, an unnecessary distraction, and therefore visual pollution in the environment.

The world is becoming more and more technologically advanced so it is appropriate in my view that our attitude and control of LED signs should change with the times. Increasingly I am obtain approval for such signage as Planners attitudes are becoming more flexible in their assessment provided the location and context of the proposed signage is appropriate.