Yesterday’s news about the Cheo and 3Dom piece in Stokes Croft being painted over by the council seems to have provoked a fair reaction, so perhaps it’s worth looking briefly at the council’s current graffiti policy. You can read it here, but the interesting bits for this case seem to be…
As part of our aim to make our Local Authority area safe, clean and green, we are committed to reducing and removing graffiti.
Apart from in galleries such as the RWA of course, where letting graffiti artists paint onto the walls has just seen it have its most successful and best attended show for years.
Interestingly whilst the policy says;
The Council is responsible for removing graffiti from Council owned properties, parks and the highways.
It then adds;
This policy focuses on reducing unlawful graffiti on property and land that is not on Council owned property.
So, the council’s focus isn’t on its own buildings and property, it’s on other people’s.
Best of all, the council can;
– Issue “Graffiti Removal Notices” under section 48 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 requiring the person responsible for the “relevant surface” to remove the defacement within a period of 28 days where the defacement is detrimental to the amenity of the area or is offensive
– Where the recipient of a Graffiti Removal Notice fails to comply with the requirements of the Notice, an authorised officer of the local authority may enter land to the extent necessary to enable it to remedy the defacement and may recover expenditure reasonably incurred in exercising this power
So, if you get someone to paint your building, and the painting is felt to be ‘detrimental to the amenity of the area’, then the council can issue you with a legal notice to remove it, and if you don’t, they can paint over it themselves and charge you for doing so.
Just to confirm this, the policy goes on to say;
Where the owner/person responsible for the property upon which the defacement has occurred does not consent to removal of the graffiti, we will exercise our statutory powers under section 48 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003
Don’t worry though, the council does sort of recognise that graffiti can be ‘art’, although they do use inverted commas around the word ‘art’;
5. Graffiti as ‘Art’
a. Where murals or artworks are deemed to make a positive contribution to the local environment and where the property owner has raised no objection, we may make the decision not to exercise our discretionary enforcement powers and/or powers of removal
So, if the person who owns the wall that has been painted has agreed to it, and what has been painted is ‘deemed to make a positive contribution to the local environment’, then they may let the piece stay.
You lucky people can even apply for permission to the council to have the wall you own painted by someone you ask to paint it;
6. Engagement with Communities
a. Support applications from residents and residents’ groups who would like to manage graffiti by displaying a mural in a specific location through a process of consultation and gaining permission from property owners for artwork. This particularly applies in areas where there is a history of graffiti and tagging
As long as it’s a ‘mural’ of course, and you’ve applied to have it done in order to ‘manage graffiti’. So no to any old wildstyle presumably. Unless Banksy did it back in the day. Then it’s probably fine. Even though the policy doesn’t explicitly say that.
It would be interesting to know how you go about applying for permission to the council to have someone paint your wall.
So, given the council can, and seemingly intends to, paint over work done on walls even with the owner’s permission, who gets to decide whether a work should be left alone or not?
specific consultation may be carried out internally with the planning department and with the Executive Member, and externally with local residents and the owner of the property
Four different groups then. So in a case where the building owner has already consented, then the council either has to base its decision on consultation with local residents (anyone ever heard of any being done with reference to a specific piece before it’s painted out?), or on the decision of council officers or the Executive Member.
Given that the council seems very unlikely to be consulting with local residents over individual pieces of graffiti being painted out, the situation seems to boil down to this.
Unelected council officers, or one single councillor, can use the law to paint over graffiti they think isn’t right for a certain area, and then charge the owner of the wall for doing so, even if the owner asked the artist to paint there in the first place, and regardless of whether local residents have complained or not.
Unelected officers and one councillor are between them the ultimate and sole legal judges of what you’re allowed to have someone paint on a wall you own, with no clear criteria on which they have to base their decision.
Doesn’t seem quite right somehow, does it?