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NIK: Cities fail to control advertising chaos

05 of July '24

The latest audit by the Supreme Audit Office (NIK) shows as plainly as day that our local governments are still failing to deal with the advertising chaos in public space. In all audited cities: Gdansk, Wroclaw, Lodz, Poznan and Opole - the Chamber found advertisements placed without the permission of local authorities.

Cities were given the tools to fight ubiquitous advertising in 2015. That's when the Landscape Law took effect - since then, municipalities have been able to set rules for the placement of advertisements, signs, small architecture and fences. However, a NIK audit of five Polish cities found that "what was intended as a universal tool turned out to be an insufficient solution."

problem not completely gone

Among the cities covered by the audit, the landscape resolution is in effect in Lodz, Opole and Gdansk, while the provisions for a cultural park: in Poznan, Wroclaw and Lodz. Unfortunately, the NIK inspectors did not visit the capital - where the scale of ads is the largest - nor Krakow, which is doing quite well with ads.

Between 2020 and 2023, Łódź had the biggest problem with illegal ads, although it was the first provincial city in Poland to adopt a landscape resolution. Even in Gdansk and Opole, where the application of the new regulations brought the best results, a significant number of undesirable and illegal ads were still found each year , the inspectors point out.

Why is this the case? The chamber found that in none of the inspected cities were comprehensive rules and solutions established for verifying whether ads were legal. Only in Opole was there an ongoing inventory of advertisements in public space. But even there, its results were not fully used, for example, to determine the amount of fines for placing illegal ads on the streets and to enforce those fines.

An interesting example is Poznań, where officials took streets along a 2-kilometer stretch under the microscope as part of a pilot study. The result? Out of 134 advertisements in the road strip, as many as 131 were illegal. The snag is that the results of the pilot were not used, for example, to impose fines.

Trouble with enforcement

According to NIK, the lack of an effective inventory of advertisements is not the only problem. Only in Opole and Lodz was the handling of matters related to the landscape resolution entrusted to specific organizational units or appointed teams. In Opole, the team for enforcing the landscape resolution, and in Lodz it was delegated to the Office of the City Architect, but its activities were limited to responding to signals and complaints about advertisements. In Gdansk, the Gdansk Board of Roads and Greenery is responsible for enforcing the landscape resolution, while in Poznan and Wroclaw, these issues were among the many matters handled by the departments designated for this purpose.

The NIK reports that, as a result, illegal advertisements were mainly identified either after complaints or by accident. In Wroclaw, remuneration for the non-contractual placement of advertisements on municipal land was not pursued in 30 cases, and in Opole, charges were abandoned in two such cases. In Lodz and Opole, illegal advertisements were identified on occasion, such as during inspections of plots of land for sale.

It is also surprising that cities do not take advantage of the possibility of fees they can charge for placing advertising boards or devices on the streets.

None of the audited cities has introduced an advertising fee, and nationwide, out of 2,477 municipalities, only 14 have done so, of which three have repealed the adopted regulations , the NIK enumerates.

According to the Chamber, it was not only municipal offices that improperly supervised the appearance of advertisements in public space, but also road managers. During visual inspections of selected streets in all audited cities, a total of 106 billboards, signs, banners or advertising stands were identified in road lanes. Depending on the city, from 12 percent to as much as 100 percent of them were there without the knowledge or consent of the road managers!

Another charge against cities is irregularities in setting fees for placing advertising in the road strip. In 20 decisions examined by the NIK, road boards underestimated the value of the fee, which constitutes income for the municipal budget, by a total of more than PLN 109,000.

Resolution in a mess

Do the not-so-optimistic results of the NIK audit mean that landscape resolutions are not needed? On the contrary. Although the resolution has not completely chased away illegal advertising - the difference in the quality of the landscape in cities that have adopted it is huge. Just look at Gdansk, where illegal advertisements have disappeared from many buildings, including those that officials could not deal with for many years. An example? A gigantic illegal sign hanging on Zieleniak, one of the city's most distinctive buildings. Provisions organizing advertising chaos were, are and will be needed in cities. However, the rulers need to spend more time and money on enforcing the records. To act more effectively.

Ewa Karendys

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