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Bike-ad deal in bumpy ride


Drive an Audi and be as cool as the French with German technology and build quality

Drive an Audi and be as cool as the French with German technology and build quality

Drive an Audi and be as cool as the French with German technology and build quality

It sounded like such a simple win-win deal.

An international ad giant gets permission to erect scores of modern ad panels across Dublin city.

Dublin City Council gets a host of public amenities, including a public biking scheme.

And the city gets a pleasing facelift, as the international ad agency also agrees to take down masses of less attractive hoarding.

Yet the seemingly simple deal carved out by JC Decaux and Dublin City Council has come under sustained fire since it was first announced last November.

Local councillors have pointed out that JC stands to make millions from the agreement while the council will settle for 450 bicycles and four public toilets.

Heritage group An Taisce has expressed grave concerns about the project, claiming JC was an unsuitable partner as it was already responsible for 119 illegal advertising hoardings across the State.

And the chief executive of the Dublin Transportation Office (DTO) said he is against the scheme "in its entirety" because the new ads would constitute a "traffic hazard".

The folks at JC seem somewhat bemused by the war of words that has developed over such an apparently innocuous scheme.

Similar projects have been undertaken in Paris, Lyon, Amsterdam and scores of other cities across the globe, they point out.

"In most other European cities if a company tenders for and wins a contract to provide public amenities in return for advertising panels then the company is unlikely to have to go through a planning process of applying for permission for each of the individual advertising sites," says one insider.

Not so in Ireland, where the planning system allows everyone to have their two cent worth.

Of the 120 ads agreed, planning permission for 72 has been granted, while An Bord Pleanala is considering planning appeals on a further 24.

It was at an oral hearing on the appeals that the starkest criticisms of the scheme came to the fore, as An Taisce, the DTO et al, made their presentations.

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But neither JC nor the Irish ad industry were swayed by the force of the objections raised.

The DTO argues that scrolling ads in particular are a "traffic hazard". But Alan Cox, head of Starcom Mediavest, says: "Poster sites are present in all major cities around the world, and I've never seen anything that ties poster advertising to car accidents."

Meanwhile Paul Moran, head of Mediaworks, adds the "active challenge" for poster advertisers is to treat it as a "three second medium".

"Our challenge is to make the posters almost subliminal, with little or no detail," he says. "It should be something that people can see just by glancing out of the corner of their eye."

Others have argued that the creation of a monopoly on Dublin city sites is a negative development. But industry sources stress that monopolies and dominant positions are nothing strange in Ireland's outdoor ad market .

JC already controls more than 81pc of Europanel (large style) ads in Ireland, as well as almost 40pc of 48 sheets. Clear Channel is the proud owner of 100pc of Dublin's Citylight (bus shelter ads) while Titan owns 100pc of Dublin's DART and Rail ads, while CBS Outdoor owns more than 70pc of the six sheets mounted in shopping centres and Avenue owns 100pc of the highstreet six sheets.

The wider argument, about the value for money element of the scheme, is one that will ultimately find its answer in the hallowed halls of Dublin City Council.

JC, however, is keen to point out that it has also agreed to dismantle 1800 sq metres of existing sites, so overall the agency's Dublin ad contingent will actually fall by 66pc.

The new adverts, however, will be of far higher quality than the existing stock, commanding higher rates. Sources suggest JC could make anything upwards of €15,000 per new ad panel per year, so if all 120 billboards are ultimately erected that gives annual revenues well above €1.8m.

JC also points towards the public services it will supply, namely a public bike scheme with 450 bicycles, four public toilets and a network of public information signs.

A thousand arguments later, the project is now entering its final preparatory stage and the An Bord Pleanala decision on those 24 billboards is the only i left to be dotted. That decision is expected to come in late next month, but JC insists it will kick off the scheme early next year even if it has to begin with just the 72 signs already granted permission.

Meanwhile, advertising sources say the scheme is much needed and will be greatly welcomed by the industry.

The 72 planning permissions granted includes permission for 50 Metropoles, free standing display units a third the size of traditional 48 sheets that will be a new addition to the Irish ad market. The other 22 permissions are for smaller advertising display units.

"The Metropoles represent the leading edge in technology and design for outdoor advertising," says JC. "In cities such as Paris the introduction of these high quality advertising panels has tempted high value brands from the pages of glossy magazines and onto outdoor for the first time."

Moran agrees JC's project will have a "disproportionately" positive impact on the industry because of the high quality signage that will be on offer.

The ad industry also points to JC's plans as a beacon of light given the current shortage of outdoor space.

"Outdoor signs, particularly large formats can be completely booked out at peak times, like before Christmas or spring into early summer," says Moran. "Anything that helps that will be welcomed."

Not exactly a thriving competitive market, then.

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