Four winners have been named in the inaugural Ugly Towns in France awards – and their mayors are not pleased.
The Prix de la France Moche was set up by an association fighting the spread of advertising hoardings
Paysages de France tried to award prizes to towns that made significant efforts to get rid of illegal advertising “but found it difficult to find any”, the association’s JeanMarie Delalande told The Connexion.
From the late 1980s to the early 2000s, some towns had kilometres of advertising panels along main roads into the built-up areas, even though a law setting out strict controls had been on the books since 1979.
The association was founded in 1993, and initially concerned itself with a range of issues touching the protection of the French visual environment before shifting its focus to advertising panels. Paysages de France was active in the Grenelle de l’Environnement debate in 2007, and succeeded in getting the laws tightened further in a law published in 2010 which came into effect in 2015.
“There has been an improvement, but you only have to look at most towns and cities in France to see that the laws are still flouted,” said Mr Delalande. “Enforcement is left to the mayors and the prefects.
'The mayors often, because they pass the signs every day, stop seeing them'
"They are reluctant to take action because it will upset the owner of the business affected, and shopkeepers can be an important force in local politics.
“For the prefects, the problem is that prefectures often have no staff and no recourse to deal with illegal advertising, so they just do not bother, even though they have a duty to do so.
“Even when they are taken to court, they prefer to defy the law rather than obey judgments and, shockingly, successive ministers of the environment have encouraged them to do so.
“Fundamentally, there is a lack of political will to tackle the problem we feel profoundly affects everyone in France – no one deserves to live in places deliberately made ugly.”
The association has won 93 decisions against the state, the most recent against the prefect of the Gironde department for not taking action when a law banning advertising panels in national parks was flouted.
Mr Delalande said: “For us, the battle has to go on and it is shocking that the environment minister, Barbara Pompili, like all but one of her predecessors since Ségolène Royal, is appealing against the decision in the Gironde case.
“The state has lost all the appeals it has made but it keeps hoping it will win just one and set a legal precedent. This time they are changing the motive of the appeal, saying the law banning advertising panels in national parks, which is written in black and white in the law books, is a ‘discretionary law.’ It is unbelievable.”
The association believes the battle against illegal advertising ties in with wider concerns about civic life in France. “When you look at who has the biggest, brightest and often most illegal signs, it is the hypermarkets, the supermarkets, the fast-food restaurants, the telephone companies and the perfume sellers,” Mr Delalande said.
“They are competing against smaller shops and restaurants which are more locally based and feel more responsibility to the communes they live in.”
The four winners of the Prix de la France Moche awards
- Alès, Gard, which won for “the flowering of advertising” in the commune. The citation reads: “You have shown how to exploit a good viewpoint to leave no green spaces… Bravo.”
- Aubenas, Ardèche, for its “contribution to heritage”. “The chateau built in the 12th century, a historic monument since 1943, really makes the town look old-fashioned. Happily, a touch of modernity has been given by the numerous touches of colour in the streets…”
- Saint-Germain-du-Puy, Cher, which won an award “for the totality of its work”. “The challenge was considerable: how to make sure that road signs became invisible. “You have done well, the accumulation of advertising signs, posts, shop signs, and other lights has swamped the road signs. Shame there are still some green spaces…”
- Saint-Jean-de-la-Ruelle, Loiret, for “being sadly banal”. “It is hard to make the entrance to your town look as banal as any number of French towns. Nevertheless it is something the town has managed by imitating everyone.”