Screened Out: Time's up for the M32 billboards

Mayor Marvin Rees

The two huge digital advertising screens overlooking the M32 are a daily nightmare for people who live near them. This year Bristol City Council has a chance to take them down.

When the screens were granted permission five years ago, no one was prepared for the damage they would cause to the lives of people living locally or travelling past them. Testimonials from over 100 people reveal that the screen's extremely bright light shines directly through residents’ windows day and night. They impact mental health and distract drivers, and the incessant light confuses local wildlife. Each screen uses a colossal amount of electricity - all for the sake of unwanted, intrusive big brand adverts from far away companies selling us stuff we don't need.

With the screens gone, local residents could sleep properly again. The birds would stop singing all through the night. Removing the screens would send a message to everyone in our creative, free-thinking, community-minded city: that the wellbeing of people and our environment are more important than corporate profit.

It is five years since these screens were given permission and this gives Bristol City Council an opportunity to take action to remove them. We’re calling on Mayor Marvin Rees to take a lead in getting these screens removed to create happier, fairer neighbourhoods for us all.

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To: Mayor Marvin Rees
From: [Your Name]

Dear Mayor Marvin Rees,

You will be aware of the two enormous digital advertising screens which overlook the M32. What you may not realise is that these screens are severely impacting the lives of many people who live near them in Easton, as well as people who work or travel in the area. We are appealing to you to take action to remove the two screens.

We are deeply concerned about the direct impact on residents who suffer from the bright light of these screens shining directly into their windows, as you can see from several personal and troubling testimonials gathered in a survey in 2020 (1). One resident said ‘I live with one shining directly into my upstairs window, blocking my only view of any green space’ (Amy, Easton). We encourage you to take the time to read these powerful testimonials from those who are directly affected by the screens every single day:

There is already a high concentration of billboards in the inner-city areas around the M32. The adverts are directed at motorists travelling along the motorway, but it is the people who live near them who are impacted every day. Residents feel frustrated that their neighbourhoods are seen as fair game for advertisers to put up bright, intrusive screens, when this would not be acceptable in more affluent areas of the city. One resident said that the screens ‘make our part of the city feel like an unloved industrial wasteland’ (Jen, Easton). Another said that ‘the billboards add to the sense that this is a neighbourhood that “doesn't matter”, where the built environment and people's enjoyment of their living space can be ridden rough-shod over’ (Mike, Easton).

The safety risks to drivers of these extremely distracting screens is also highly concerning, since research shows that digital screens impair driver attention, particularly for younger drivers (2). In the context of the Climate and Ecological emergencies declared by the Council, the ecological impacts of light pollution from the screens, and the huge amount of electricity that each screen uses (3), are also troubling and inconsistent with the city’s work towards a greener and more biodiverse future.

When these screens were approved five years ago, it seems that no one was prepared for the severe impact they would have on local communities. It is now clear that this has been a deeply damaging experiment for the people of Bristol which must end. It is now five years since these two screens were given permission, one in December 2016, the other in January 2017. This gives the council its first opportunity to take action to remove them. So far, the commercial interests of corporate advertisers have been prioritised over residents’ mental health and wellbeing. Now that we have clear evidence of the multiple negative effects of these screens on Bristol people’s quality of life, we are appealing to you to take a lead in removing the two screens, and give local residents some peace and respect at last.

(1) Living Next to Digital Billboards, Adblock Bristol, 2021:
(2) Trespalacios et al. (2019) The impact of road advertising signs on driver behaviour and implications for road safety: A critical systematic review. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 122:85-98.
(3) The electricity cost of digital adverts, Adfree Cities, 2019: