Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

We should all be painting the town red, not dull grey

Fly on the wall: posters promoting club and alternative nights out would appeal to author Brian Moore’s sense of fun

Now that the Japanese tourists have finished picking up spent police baton round shells as riot souvenirs following the recent trouble in Ardoyne, I wonder what they — and other visitors — make of this strange city? It's always illuminating to look at your home turf through the eyes of another.

Recently, friends visiting Belfast for the first time remarked on the ugly daubs of grey, brown, green or black paint that the council uses to block out flyposters all over town.

They failed to see the logic in replacing so-called urban vandalism — the offending posters — with corporate vandalism — slapdash smears of grim-looking paint, sloppily applied, that looks ten times worse than the posters themselves ever did. And this is supposed to be in the name of keeping Belfast clean?

Lately, city centre traders and others have been on their high horse about the “scourge” of flyposting, and how it destroys the appearance of the city.

We've been told how it costs the taxpayer more than £250,000 a year to get rid of the posters advertising gigs, club nights and other happenings. And there's been much finger-pointing about who's to blame and who should do something about it, with the Planning Service, promoters and venue owners coming under particular criticism.

Instead of whining on about our ruptured civic pride and fulminating about the hooligans who put up the posters — not to mention spending thousands on job lots of grey paint — what about looking at the issue in a different way? For a start, why assume that flyposters are such a curse?

Alright, I can do without those lurid posters that advertise mega-club nights featuring DJs with stupid names like Bobz or Stompy. But I've seen plenty that are truly creative and imaginative, with a clever eye-catching design, whether they are advertising gigs, plays or political meetings. And I'd much rather see these than a mass of dull paint.

Why not turn it round and see the flyposters as a sign of a lively city with a flourishing alternative cultural scene, rather than a blight on society?

Theatres and other entertainers have flyposted for centuries.

There was even flyposting on the Colosseum in ancient Rome. So why should we get our knickers in a twist and carry on like it's the end of civilised society just because someone dares to stick a colourful poster on a blank bit of wall? If Rome survived, I'm sure Belfast will.

And it's not as if the people putting up flyposters are smothering our finest buildings with their ads. Flyposters tend to appear on disused properties and chipboard hoardings erected by construction companies.

One boarded-up and derelict building at Shaftesbury Square served as an effective de facto noticeboard for events in south Belfast, before the council called the anti-decorators in and wiped it all out with a toxic shade of green.

Yes, of course I know that flyposting is illegal. And I concede there is a need for some kind of regulation. But in the absence of a cheap and legitimate way of advertising, there's no other way for emerging bands, young songwriters, small promoters and local events organisers to directly inform the wider public about what's happening.

They simply do not have the money for large-scale billboards or media advertising. And if you stifle these happenings, you create a bland, one-dimensional society, devoid of life.

There must be a better way to manage this issue than the crude policy that is in place at present. Other cities in the UK have authorised sites where small advertisers can put up their posters legitimately.

In Glasgow, Parisian-style advertising drums were installed in the West End of the city. Glasgow City Council drew up an agreement with a company which provided the drums and obtained the advertising — from which it kept the proceeds — but in return the company agreed to remove flyposting from an agreed area round the drums. The result? Small advertisers got their events promoted, and a clean-up service was provided at no cost to council taxpayers. Now that's smart thinking.

We've always been too keen on rules and regulations in this part of the world: writer Brian Moore spoke of the “dearth of gaiety the surfeit of order” that has long held sway here. Painting out flyposters is the contemporary equivalent of chaining up the swings on Sundays – joyless and pointless. It's time for a re-think.

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