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Dubai Municipality drafts regulation to raise licensing fees

Dubai Municipality drafts regulation to raise licensing fees. (EB FILE)

By Dima Hamadeh
Dubai Municipality has drafted a regulation to increase licensing fees for hoardings on private and government-owned land as well as fines for non-compliance with the guidelines.

This follows a new guideline for outdoor advertising specifications currently being prepared by the municipality to regulate all out-of-home advertising, including roads, which are within the jurisdiction of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and the free zones.

Mona Khamis Ibrahim, Head of Advertising Section, Planning and Survey Department of Dubai Municipality, said a draft legislation has already been sent to the Executive Council to replace the current Dubai law number 30 for the year 1986 regarding all regulations for outdoor advertising.

She said the rectification of this legislation would be delayed until the crisis is over. “We realise the difficulties facing the outdoor sector, therefore the law has been put on hold until the industry starts showing signs of recovery,” said Khamis.

However, outdoor media companies did not seem happy with the news.

The new guidelines by the municipality for outdoor advertising will govern the sizes and the distances between signboards including rooftops, wall banners, scaffoldings and lampposts.

Khamis said the recommended distances between 30-metre scaffoldings is 200 metres. The lampposts will be arranged depending on the road speed. “On highways, the new guideline will allow one lamp post every third street light post. On the slower roads, those will be arranged on every alternate street lamp,” she explained.

Industry analysts anticipate a clash in interests among the four authorities offering licences to advertising companies.

Khamis said: “We are not talking about a separate authority, we are talking about tackling all outdoor advertising in the emirate of Dubai.

“The main reason for setting these guidelines, was the multitude of authorities and departments looking after the licensing of out-of-home advertising. Since we have been at the forefront of issuing advertising licences, we saw a need to set new regulations that included all the aspects and helped eliminate ambiguity for the stakeholders, mainly the outdoor media companies.”

She said this would not lead to a clash of interests between Dubai Municipality and RTA. “Our ultimate goal is the beautification of the emirate. As Dubai Municipality, we are part of the Planning Department and we are concerned with the urban planning of the city. Even if the other departments lag behind in applying those guidelines, we will focus on our part and follow the rules.”

The new guidelines are to be submitted to the technical committee in the Dubai Municipality in February for discussion and approval. The municipality will also send each of the involved departments and authorities, including RTA, the relevant bits to receive their feedback.

“We hope that it will be approved soon afterwards,” said Khamis.

She said the municipality, however, would not communicate with the outdoor media companies for their feedback until the technical committee has seen it and the various departments have sent their feedback.

In response, outdoor media companies expressed their confusion regarding the new guidelines. The RTA already has a separate guideline document on all the specifications of outdoor advertising under its jurisdiction, they said.

They said the increase in fees would cause an additional blow to the outdoor industry. “They either save this industry or kill it,” said Hassan Kaddouha, Head of Operations, Shoof.

“Even if the increase in fees is to be applied after the economic situation improves, this will mean another three years. The industry will need a very long time to recover,” he said. “Besides, any small additions to the fees before our contracts are over would mean huge losses on the long-term package that we have agreed with our clients.”

Currently outdoor companies pay Dh100 to Dubai Municipality for each square metre of a signboard on a private or a government-owned land. The fines for offences are Dh5,000.

Adel Nazzal, Head of Gold Neon, said the market was dead at the moment. “It is not only a matter of economic recovery. We will have to wait for two more years to see the impact of the recovery on outdoor, while companies increase their budgets enough once more to accommodate outdoor advertising in their marketing and advertising strategies.”

The new guidelines will also cause a major dilemma for outdoor companies which are still in the dark. Who will carry out the new regulations – RTA or Dubai Municipality – would be a major challenge for them.

Outdoor companies have acquired their spaces, including lampposts, from RTA. Those currently occupy every street lamp on the main roads.

Kaddouha said any adjustments to every third or every alternate street lamp on a road will either push into their neighbour’s property, and thus push forward the whole street.

“This will compromise our target audience and our clients. In addition, we have already paid through RTA tenders for a specific number of lampposts. Will there be a compensation?” he said.

“This will make us incur losses including hardware cancellation, re-installation, clients and fee increases. Regulations, processes and prices will only lead this industry to more decline.”

On the other hand, Ahmad Lizzaik, Managing Director and owner of Reach outdoor, hailed the new regulation but asked: “Does Dubai Municipality has the authority to impose them on the RTA governed areas?”

The removal of an offensive scaffolding could cost companies in the neighbourhood of Dh90,000. The remains from the big hoardings will go to scrap.

Khamis said Dubai Municipality currently has 1,800 licensed hoardings, but she doubted that not many of those would be considered as offensive according to the new guideline document.

“I believe there are a few of the old ones, but most of those have been removed because of the crisis,” she said.

According to the guidelines, building can only bear a rooftop board sign or a wall banner. Kaddouha said this would place the decision in the hands of the owners to decide whose contract to renew.

Nazzal said: “It is a matter of waiting and seeing. We hope that they will consider the contracts’ expiry dates, and will only start to put those guidelines in effect on the new contracts. Right now the market is suffering.”