Sandwell Council has passed a major hurdle in its bid to build the 24ft wide LED screens over a section close to where the M5 and M6 meet – one of the busiest parts of the West Midlands motorway network.
The application was backed by the council's planning committee despite the fact a petition objecting to the structure was signed by almost 250 people. West Midlands Police had also called for the application to be blocked on safety grounds.
Campaigners believe the boards, which will stand 60ft off the ground in Ray Hall Lane, West Bromwich, on both sides of the motorway, could distract drivers due to their size and brightness.
They also believe light emitting from them could impact on neighbouring properties and have labelled it a 'waste of taxpayers' money'.
The application will have to go before the full council but that is expected to be just a rubber-stamping exercise following the decision of the planning committee. During the meeting, Councillor Liam Preece, who represents the Charlemont ward and launched the petition against the advertising boards, made a passionate plea for the application to be refused.
He said: "This is a damaging and dangerous application in our view. Why place a large illuminated LED sign on a stretch of road where cars are doing 70mph, thinking about changing lane and thinking about the direction they are going in changing motorway? That to me seems incredibly dangerous." A statement from the West Midlands Motorway Police said that 'for any advert to work it needs to distract drivers' attention to it' and that distractions while driving were one of the four biggest causes of crashes resulting in injury or death.
However, the committee was swayed by the fact Highways England had not raised any objections to the scheme, while the council has already agreed to reduce the brightness of the signs.
Council officer Alan Reynolds, who was speaking in favour of the proposal on behalf of the authority, said the boards were being placed over a 'relatively straight' stretch of road and in a 'congestion hotspot' where traffic is normally 'fairly slow or at a standstill'.
Planning committee member Councillor Peter Allen said: "We have these already on the M5, I drive past them all the time. If there had been accidents caused by distraction I'm sure we would have received that information."
Following the meeting, a dejected Councillor Preece said he believed it was the wrong call.
He said: "I think the planning committee made the wrong call, they have ignored valid concerns on road safety. I think there is a real danger for motorists on that stretch. I would be surprised if the council went against the planning committee's recommendation."