A county council allowed a private hospital to use three advertising billboards on state-owned land for free for nearly twenty years.
Even after the council’s traffic section told colleagues four years ago that the billboards were a “safety distraction” because of their location at a very busy road junction – they were not removed until the end of last month.
It has also emerged that officials at Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council had planned to meet with the Beacon Hospital about removal of the billboards last year.
However, they decided to postpone it because of the Covid-19 vaccination controversy involving the hospital on the basis “they had more on their minds than billboards”.
The saga began around 2003 or 2004 when the three billboards were first erected on council-owned land at Drummartin Link Road in Dublin’s Sandyford.
In later correspondence, the Beacon said it was their understanding they were available for use once they were “maintained … in good condition”.
However, in November 2017, they looked to regularise the situation writing to the council seeking permission to retain them there.
A letter from them said: “It has been brought to our attention recently that this land is council property and we’ve been asked to remove same or risk receiving litter fines.”
The letter added: “We have obviously maintained them since and they are extremely valuable promotional boards for the businesses.”
Internal discussions in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown council weighed up the pros and cons of granting permission with two sections of the council suggesting a licence fee could be sought for the site.
However, by June 2018, the council had decided the billboards needed to be removed.
In a letter to the Beacon Hospital, the local authority explained how their traffic section had said the advertising panels were “a safety distraction to drivers and other road users on a very busy access route off the M50 motorway”.
It added: “The size; number and location of the signage will also cause problems in the development of future road and cycle tracks infrastructure in the area.”
A year later in 2019 however, nothing had changed, and the signs remained in situ.
A local councillor who had raised questions about them was told there had been “ongoing discussion” about what the next steps should be.
The council said: “It has now been decided and agreed that the Council will write to the owners of the structures requiring their removal within a set timeframe.”
By February 2020, officials were still talking about meeting with the Beacon, but the billboards remained in place a year later.
In February of last year, the council received a complaint about the billboards, including the installation of new lighting at the site, which was now shining into neighbouring buildings.
An internal email about the complaint asked that it not be logged on the council’s internal Customer Relationship Manager system saying it was “one of those things that will take time to sort out”.
Later in April in internal discussions, a council official said there had been plans to meet with the Beacon to “sort this thing out once and for all”.
An email added: “However this did not go ahead as the story broke in the media about the vaccinations etc. so I guessed that they had more on their minds than Billboards then!!”
Another complaint was lodged with the council in autumn last year where details of planning permission for the billboards were sought.
A response to that said it was not a planning matter and that it had been referred on to the council’s property management team.
In November 2021, an official responded to say: “They [the billboards] are an issue I have been dealing with on and off for some time, but unfortunately, we have not been able to devote enough time to it yet to achieve a resolution. However, it will continue to be a project for us until it is sorted out.”
It was only after Right to Know submitted queries to the council that the billboards were finally removed from the junction.
A spokesperson for the council said: “The billboards are not commercial, and no income was received for them. The billboards are in the process of being removed.”
A PR company for the Beacon Hospital said they had no comment to make.