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The City has become aware of the heighted efforts by unscrupulous media owners of securing advertising signs on both public and private land without Council’s approval as required in terms of the 2009 Outdoor Advertising Bylaws. On receiving various complaints from Ward Councillors and other affected parties, the City’s Development Planning Department undertook site inspections to collate information on the said signs known to have been erected after Council has approved a 36 month Transitional Period on the 14th March 2019.

In light of this declaration by Council, the City issued a public notice on the 01 August 2019 inviting all owners of any advertising sign on any land to declare it to the City by not later than 31 October 2019 irrespective of its legality. The notice applies only to existing advertising signs that were erected and have been in existence prior to the declaration of the Transitional Period by Council.

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The “Transitional Period”, must be understood to be a principle that regulates the period that starts before an amendment or enactment of a law comes into force, and ends after the amendment or enactment of the law has come into force. At this stage, the new Bylaws has not come into force hence this declaration. This was done in an effort to ensure that the sector is not disadvantaged while the new By-laws are suspended due to litigation.

Council decided to provide for some form of indulgence through a well structured and interim framework to allow for the phasing out illegal signs over the 36 month transitional period. During this period, the City has undertaken to the sector that it will not take any punitive action against any advertising assets declared to the City provided an agreement is reached on a timeframe to remove such sign if found to be none compliant with the Bylaws within the 36 month period. This agreement will be contracted upon sothat the City has legal recourse in case of none compliance to the terms agreed upon.

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There is no suggestion in the public notice issued by the City that provides for carta blanch to erect illegal advertising signs in an effort to be eligible for such indulgence. What has also become apparent is that these illegally erected advertising structures are not branded to be able to immediately identify their owners.

The City is working tirelessly to identify these faceless companies that are hell bent on derailing efforts to restore law and order in the sector through a structured period to phase out illegality from the sector in collaboration with law abiding media owners who supports the City’s goals of reducing clutter in the sector for the benefit of all.

The City hereby puts it on record that these actions will be met with the full might of the law and that it enjoys the support of the sector to fight this scourge at all cost. The responsible Departments are in consultation with its Group Legal Department to determine the most effective way of dealing swiftly with these offenders. The City, constitutionally mandated to regulate outdoor advertising within its jurisdiction, will invoke all its all enforcement capabilities to, inter alia, criminally charge the landowner, the signage company and the advertiser to ensure speedy resolution of this unprecedented through applicable policies.

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The City therefore calls upon brand owners or advertisers and their advertising agencies whose reputation may be at stake for funding this form of thuggery to contact the City in order to confirm legality of any advertising sign before concluding any media contracts and or to desist from this illegal activity. It is in such collaborative efforts that this recent scourge will be rendered counterproductive as there is no legal basis or obligation to the City will extend this amnesty to signs that are currently being erected without due regard to applicable law.

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The rationale for the transitional period

Over the past eight years, the outdoor advertising industry has been plagued by illegality of various outdoor advertising mediums. It is estimated that just over 90% of all advertising signs in the City across all land do not have the written approval of the City in terms of the by-laws and are therefore deemed to be illegal. Due to illegality, the City has experienced unprecedented oversupply and proliferation of advertising media which has affected both revenue and the urban environment negatively.

A direct consequence of signs with no council approval is the reduction in the values of existing legal signs. This is especially true since these signs are not only erected without approvals, but they contravene the technical specifications of the by-laws resulting in them being larger and in places that would otherwise not be permissible and therefore more valuable than the existing supply of legal signs. Consequently, legal operators suffer as advertisers spend large portions of their budgets on the superior illegal signs.

In light of the above, the City embarked on a process to amend its 2009 Outdoor Advertising By laws. In the main, amendments to the Bylaws were intended to improve on both the assessment of applications and to improve the law enforcement process. In particular, proposed amendments to the Bylaws will allow the City to take action against offenders where they have erected a sign without Council’s approval.

Removal of illegal signs without a court order will become a norm (but only after notifying the owner).The Magistrates Court, which have jurisdiction over municipal bylaws, would be utilised more frequently, to bring about swifter and effective prosecutions as opposed to the protracted high court action. A renewed partnership with the Municipal Prosecutors will ensure that bylaw infringements are prosecuted criminally and that punishments are more severe (inclusive of imprisonment) and therefore deterrent.

Unfortunately the implementation of the new Bylaws were suspended though an Order of Court hence the 36 month period to allow for a transition into the new phase pending finalisation of the litigation.

The City will thus not stand back and allow any unscrupulous media owners to undermine its legitimacy as a statutory institution to regulate the sector. The City is committed to the rule of law and this will be done without fear or favour.