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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 December, 2004, 08:12 GMT
Crusade to blast away flyposting
By Liam Allen
BBC News

A new government bill published this week would give local authorities new powers to tackle, among other things, flyposting and graffiti.

But the battle to stop these practices, considered by many to be unjustifiable, has been going on for many years.

What do the people of Westminster think of the team's work?

Patrick Parsons says he gets "great satisfaction" from his job.

He is leader of the street team which forms part of Westminster Council's Anti-Flyposting and Graffiti unit.

From 4am to 2pm each weekday the team travels around Westminster blasting away illegal posters with pressure hosepipes and scrubbing off graffiti with chemicals.

The team removes about 4,000 square metres of paper from the walls of Westminster each year.

'Nervous wreck'

As he finishes removing posters from a wall in the heart of Soho, he says the surface will probably be "done" again tonight.

Given this information, many would people think his job a thankless task.

Door before and after treatment in Westminster
Before and after the treatment

But Mr Parsons, 34, who lives in Bournemouth but stays in West Drayton in Middlesex while he is working, is philosophical.

"If I let it worry me then I'd probably end up a nervous wreck - it's a revolving circle but we are winning the battle."

But despite his positive attitude he admits it can be "extremely frustrating".

That sentiment is shared by head of the unit Rob Campbell.

"At the moment, if a poster goes up on the wall, we can't take action for 48 hours," he said.

"It's a bit like catching a shoplifter stealing some whisky and saying that if he doesn't take it back within 48 hours he's in trouble but that if he returns it then everything's alright."

'Small fines'

When the council spots a new poster it writes to the beneficiary instructing them to remove it within 48 hours and a summons is issued if they fail to do so.

Rob Campbell, of Westminster Council
The only solution to the problem is to make flyposting an absolute offence
Rob Campbell
Westminster Council

Mr Campbell also complains that the fines imposed are too small - the maximum fine is 2,500 per poster but they average about 50 each, he says.

Mr Campbell says the council removes posters after an average of two-and-a-half days.

Last month, the unit was buoyed by an unprecedented 5,000 fine - 1,000 for each of five posters pasted in Soho - imposed on rock music label Music For Nations.

And in June 2004, Westminster Council made public the names of 12 multi-national companies which used flyposting in the borough, resulting in a 60% reduction in six weeks.

Ten out of the 12 companies have not flyposted since.

Issue unaddressed

Mr Campbell says plans to tackle flyposting that form part of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill published this week - which include on-the-spot fines for people caught flyposting - "don't go far enough".

Crucially, he says, the bill does not address the 48 hour rule.

"The only solution to the problem is to make flyposting an absolute offence," he said.

But advertising company Posters 2000, which organises flyposting campaigns in the south London area, says the medium is "the only way smaller companies can afford to advertise".

Spokeswoman Kelly Stiles said "a minority" of flyposters left a mess and posted on street furniture "giving the rest of us a bad name".

She said Posters 2000, which does not operate in the Westminster area, posted on boards they had put up rather than straight on to walls to minimise damage.

'Area patrol'

Ms Stiles said she would welcome a licensing system on her patch.

Councils in some other parts of the UK already operate such systems.

"If they did a deal we'd patrol our area and keep it clear.

"That would be much better than them spending a fortune on cleaning."

The team's Craig Simpson
I feel like a superhero saving the day
Craig Simpson
Street team

But Mr Campbell said Westminster would not entertain a licensing scheme because it believed bigger companies which could afford other means of advertising were responsible for most flyposting.

For as long as that remains the case his unit's street team will continue to fight the battle to keep the borough's buildings free.

And the members of the team say that, judging from feedback from members of the public, most of the people of Westminster are happy for that to carry on.

As street team member Craig Simpson, 19, of West London, says of his role: "I feel like a superhero saving the day."

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29 Nov 04 |  England
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22 Oct 04 |  Entertainment
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30 Jun 04 |  Northern Ireland
Fly-poster ban 'will hurt venues'
26 Aug 04 |  Entertainment

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