Outdoor advertising in small towns is now banned in France, but the removal of existing billboards is one that is likely to take many years.
With the twin objectives of combating the nuisance from visual pollution and reducing electricity consumption, in 2010 the French government passed a law reforming the regulations concerning outdoor advertising.
One of the key measures was to ban billboard outdoor advertising in towns containing less than 10,000 inhabitants. Infringement is subject to a recurring fine of at least €200 a day.
In addition, the maximum size of fascia signs within towns was reduced from 12m2 to 4m2, and facia signs on walls with no openings have been banned altogether.
The ban is operative from 13th July 2015, with advertisors thereby having been given five years notice that existing billboards, posters and signs needed to be removed by this date, and the councils time to bring their local plans in line with the new law.
The only outdoor advertising signs permitted are those promoting cultural and tourist activities, historic monuments and 'produits du terroir'.
In addition, small directional signs to important or useful local services installed on the roadside with the consent of the local highway authority will also continue to be permitted. These signs are already frequently installed by the local councils themselves to assist visitors.
In theory, therefore, the visual chaos is that frequently seen along the roadside near small towns such as«Centre commercial à 3 kilomètres à droit» or «Restauration rapide à 500 mètres à gauche» should in now be pulled down.
Except that very little change appears to have taken place in the 5 years grace granted to advertisers, and there is by no means a universal consensus on the removal of such signs, with local councils having themselves over many years turned a blind eye to breaches of previous regulations.
Most are reluctant to act due the need to promote local economic activity, but for some there is also a fiscal incentive from a discretionary tax they are able to impose on outside advertising - la taxe locale sur la publicité extérieure (TLPE).
As a result progress on the clean-up is likely to be slow. The Association des maires de France (AMF) has stated: "We must not think in terms of sanctions.........Things will be done gradually. It is more a question of persuasion than control."
According to the government there are around 600,000 signs that are outside of the law, although the campaign group Paysages de France believes the number of infringements to be over 1 million.
Although towns containing more than 10,000 inhabitants continue to be permitted to allow outdoor advertising, the regulations have also been tightened here, including the need for specific consent for all signs larger than 1 metre high and 1.5 metres in width.
They are also subject to the ban on facia signs on sheer walls and there are new regulations covering the density of outdoor advertising.
The guidance notes on the new regulations runs to 250 pages and many councils have already stated they are incomprehensible!