Roadside Advertising Regulations: Everything You Need To Know

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In some respects, it should come as no surprise that outdoor advertising represents a consistently growing market.

Even on a fundamental level, out-of-home (OOH) media is a channel that cannot be switched off, whilst it’s particularly effective when targeting the members of generation Z (56% of whom don’t respond to or click through online adverts).

Whilst the market’s growth has been largely driven by digital ad spending, there’s also a growing demand for traditional adverts at busy and bustling roadside locations nationwide.

Like any other area of advertising, the OOH medium is bound by a unique set of rules, regulations and prohibitions. Understanding these guidelines is important for any advertiser, so we’ve produced a comprehensive guide to help you make the most of your OOH campaigns and roadside ads.

Understanding the Importance of Planning Permission

Before we delve into the unique guidelines surrounding roadside advertising, you must first understand the broader rules related to OOH media. 

More specifically, you must appreciate that almost all forms of OOH advertising require some form of planning permission, which must be granted by the relevant local planning authority in conjunction with the owner of the ad site in question.

There are some exceptions to this rule, with so-called ‘deemed consent’ guidelines highlighting several instances where permission is not required from the local authority.

We’ll explore these in a little more detail below, so you can understand the precise circumstances in which you can proceed without written permission.

If your advert doesn’t meet the criteria listed below, you must submit a formal application the requests ‘express consent’ to display your messaging. 

Your application can be made either on or offline, with those completed digitally available via a virtual planning portal. Completing paper forms may take a little longer due to inevitable postal delays, but in general terms, a decision will be taken within eight weeks so long as your information is inputted accurately.

In total, there are at least seven types of OOH advertising that meet the criteria of deemed consent and are therefore excluded from planning authority control.

These include:

  • Adverts Displayed Inside a Building: Some ads of this type meet the rules of deemed consent, so long as they’re not illuminated or displayed within one metre of an external window opening. 


  • Ads and Branding Located Outside: In some cases, external structures and fittings may feature prominent branding in the form of trade-names, markets and tickets (such as the Coca-Cola logo on an outside drink vending machine). These do not require planning permission, despite the fact that they clear promote specific brands and products in some instances.


  • Purpose Designed Ad Sites: Deemed consent is also awarded to purpose-built advertising sites, such as street kiosks. The size of your ad is the critical issue here, as posters or small-scale billboards must be no bigger than four sheets.


  • Areas That Have Displayed Ads for 10 Year or More: If a particular site or building has been used for ad displays for a decade or more, this also fits the criteria of deemed consent. The only exception to this rule is in instances where the size or the scale of the advertising is increased, at which point planning permission may be required.


  • Branded Flags That Don’t Promote Specific Products: Occasionally, businesses may look to fly flags that feature their company name and logo for a limited period of time. This type of advertising meets the criteria of deemed consent, so long as the flags don’t seek to promote specific products. 


  • Adverts in Forecourts or Enclosed Areas: Ads in forecourts (such as those at petrol stations) don’t require any form of advanced planning permission. The same principle applies to similar ads that are featured in areas that are enclosed by a fence or wall.


  • Ads That Promote On-Site Good and Services: If you own a commercial storefront and want to advertise the goods and services available on-site, there’s absolutely no need to apply for planning permission from the local authority.

To process your planning application, you’ll be required to pay a nominal administration fee. In some instances, you may also need to submit illustrative plans and drawings of the proposed ad, as this can speed up the application process considerably.

What About the Regulations for Roadside Advertising?

As we’ve already touched on, most forms of OOH advertising require some form of planning permission. Roadside advertising is no exception to this rule, particularly as this typically involves erecting 48 or 96-sheet billboards in prominent public locations.

In this instance, you’ll definitely have to kick-start the process by submitting a planning request via your Local Planning Authority, using their own planning portal that’s available online.

When applying to erect a roadside ad, your request will almost certainly be forwarded to the Highways England agency. This department covers all roads, carriageways and pavements, along with footways that are accessible to the general public.

So far, so good, but it’s fair to say that securing permission for roadside ads can be deceptively challenging in the current climate. This is borne out by the fact that ads can be taken down and removed even after permission has been granted, in instances where they’re deemed to obstruct road access or provide a distraction to drivers.

This climate is the result of an ongoing conflict between local pressure groups and protects who oppose roadside advertising and those who work within the industry, with the guidelines pertaining to the motorway and dual carriageways ads have become increasingly stringent and tightly controlled in recent times.

This battle for supremacy has certainly created tougher legislation in recent years, whilst the growing opposition to ads in rural and ‘green’ areas has also caused prevailing attitudes to alter from one region to the next.

Planning permission

More specifically, whilst there are some councils that require little excuse to deny planning permission for roadside ads, there are others that actively encourage this by taking a more lenient approach.

Urban areas and bustling city centres tend to belong in the latter camp, as they already feature a large number of established ad-networks for brands to target. Many of these are also more than 10 years old, meaning that they may qualify for deemed consent in the eyes of the existing legislation.

Of course, the number of ad sites in these regions has grown in line with the level of demand for OOH media, with both businesses now increasingly inclined to book strategically placed billboards as part of an integrated marketing campaign.

In general terms, however, there are two main factors to consider when processing your application for roadside advertising. Firstly, you’ll need to consider the ownership of a particular site, in order to determine whether or not they’ve granted permission to erect ads.

Secondly, you’ll need to ask whether the Highways authority and local council agree to display the ad? This is a question that you’ll only answer definitively once planning permission has been granted, but it’s worth having an initial conversation with the council to identify any potential stumbling blocks.

With both these points in mind, your chances of securing permission are improved by partnering with an established OOH ad agency. 

After all, these entities will probably own a vast network of roadside sites that are already approved to showcase OOH ads, whilst they’ll also have experience of dealing with the local authority and the relevant legislation.

What About UK Advertising Codes?

If you do secure permission for your ad, it’s then important to ensure that your content adheres to the necessary advertising standards and codes in the UK.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is a self-regulatory body that has written the rule book for all non-broadcast advertising on these shores, whilst this entity also has the power to impose sanctions on non-compliant ads and refer the worst offenders to Trading Standards.

In general terms, the CAP is likely to crackdown on any ads (roadside or otherwise) that are misleading, harmful or offensive. These terms cover a broach church of rules and protections, as they prohibit against everything from the promotion of smoking and the selling of e-cigarettes to unsupported medical and environmental claims.

You can check out the full list here, but once again it’s important to work alongside your chosen agency to ensure that your content abides by the rules of the CAP. We’d also recommend taking guidance directly from the CAP, particularly as ads aren’t prescreened and can be removed without prior consultation.

This type of approach should ensure that you create a viable and compliant roadside ad, whilst the failure to achieve this objective could result with significant sanctions including the withdrawal of certain trading privileges and continued pre-vetting for all public communications in the future.

The Last Word

As we can see, planning permission is required for most forms of OOH advertising, whilst the rules and regulations are particularly complex in the case of roadside ads.

Understanding the broad application process and the typical challenges surrounding outdoor advertising can help you to proceed successfully, whilst it may also reduce the time taken to secure permission from both land-owners and local authorities.

You should also remember that the process is simpler when working with an established OOH ad agency, as they typically have the knowledge and resources to make your task far easier to accomplish. 

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