Advertising devices – the BIG QUESTION MARK over LED signs

Have you noticed all of the LED signs springing up around Cairns?

Did you know that a lot of that signage is non-conforming and does NOT have the necessary permits and approvals? Is it possible that it is a contentious issue? OR is it really just that businesses and stakeholders don’t have clarity about what sort of signage is suitable and when Cairns Regional Council (‘Council’) can support these ‘Advertising Devices’.

Whether Council likes it or not, there is going to be a time when compliance/enforcement becomes a real issue and the approach to dealing with future ‘Advertising Devices’ across the city will need to be clarified.

Council updated the Tables of Assessment in the CairnsPlan 2016 to make the establishment of ‘pylon’ advertising signage to be Impact Assessable.  Further, the current assessment criteria doesn’t seem to support any advertising devices that accommodate advancements in technology, including “devices that do not contain parts that move or rotate, or lights that strobe or flash, or consist of video, LCD, LED, Plasma or similar screens”.

So, what is happening when we see new LED advertising devices being established? Does Council need to show some leadership in respect of control/assessment and provide criteria where these new technologies can be supported?

Short answer is yes… and soon.

Changes in evolving technology

Advertising Devices are an important aspect of any business and embracing the evolution of technology is a key component in ensuring you keep up-to-date with the changing market.  Advertising Devices are beginning to evolve into the outdoor media platform market however, the Planning Scheme is very reactive and tends to restrict this evolution by not taking into consideration the growth and implementation of new technologies.

Planning Schemes are NOT a static document.  They are not amended often enough to be able to allow for innovative approaches or advances in technology, yet they are still required to predict the future of development in coming years and be responsive to improvements and changes in our communities.  The advancements are obvious now days with smart phones, social medial, interactive assessment tools and seemingly a ‘new’ app for almost everything.  Development activities are no different and it sometimes feels like the private sector are years ahead of government in adapting to change.

RIGHT: Changing technology of signs ‘old school’ adaptive signage 

Do you remember when businesses didn’t have instant communication and people stood around the fax machine waiting for that important contract… WOW that was only 15 years ago…

Setting some criteria on which digital advertising can be supported

Let’s be honest, outdoor media such as LED advertising devices are here to stay.  They have become the popular choice among businesses as a communication tool as they stand out to pedestrians and the message displayed on the device can be routinely changed without having to remove or replace an existing sign.  LED signs can be equipped to display graphics instead of just simply text and also have the ability to add effects such as fading and scrolling which provides for more appealing advertising devices.

However, with change comes uncertainty, which is understandable from a Council perspective, as it is safer to restrict a new device rather than to consider a framework under which they will be ultimately supported and regulated.  Precautions absolutely need to be taken to address the following issues associated with an LED advertising device:

  • – dwell time;
  • – animation;
  • – transition;
  • – luminance;
  • – content; and
  • – size.

Each of the above listed parameters needs to be taken into consideration when erecting an LED advertising device as it is very easy to create a sign that could cause major issues regarding traffic and pedestrian safety.  The good news however is that most LED signs now have programmable software to dim their display when less light is reflected off them, so they aren’t running at 100% brightness all the time.  The size issue could potentially be controlled by a performance outcome in the Planning Scheme as a means to regulate LED signs to a minimum and maximum size in certain areas.  The remainder of the issues mentioned above can simply be fixed with appropriate programming, however regular surveillance of the signs may be required to ensure compliance is achieved.

From a business perspective, LED signs are a great way to elevate your public profile.  We see them in Cairns now being used by businesses, schools, churches and indeed Council and State Government (i.e. Cairns Convention Centre).  However, from a planning perspective, they can cause a lot of issues to the safety of traffic and pedestrian if not properly regulated.  Not to mention the visual pollution which is also attributable to the proliferation of advertising when there are now guidelines available (or being enforced) to manage them.

There are a lot of little specifications that Council needs to be 100% sure of before showing support for LED signage because once they are approved, we will be seeing a lot more of them around town.

If you would like additional information regarding national LED sign regulations, visit the Outdoor Media Association (OMA) at and click on OMA Digital Guideline.