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Home and Commercial flag flying

Last modified: 2013-12-18 by rob raeside
Keywords: residential usage |
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United Kingdom

Flag poles at private residences are classified as miscellaneous structures and subject to planning regulations. A single pole in front of a house that fronts onto a highway or public path would require permission. It would probably be granted as long as it was not too high, and no one objected. A single pole that was behind the house would not require permission providing that it was not too high. More than one pole would probably be considered excessive.

Once you have your flagpole you can theoretically fly only a national flag, but the intention of this restriction is to prevent flags that are advertisements, and "national" appears to include sub-national, regional, international, heraldic, etc. One twist in relation to commercial property is that a national flag is considered to be an advertisement if the product of the commercial activity is identified with a particular nation. Thus an Italian restaurant had to stop flying an Italian flag.
David Prothero, 24 March 2007


In general, in any area governed by planning laws, flying a flag in general, and erecting a flagpole in particular, may be subject to these laws. (The same could be said agreements between landowners, etc.) In the UK, for the purposes of planning regulations, flags seem to be treated as outdoor advertisements. (The term advertisement is used fairly broadly - other items in this category include municipal and traffic signs, warning notices and neighbourhood watch scheme signs.*) In general, any advertisement (and so perhaps flying any flag), needs permission from the local authority. However, several types of advertisement are either excluded from the local authority's control or deemed to be allowed without any need for an application.

Excluded from the local government's control since the 1992 regulations are "A national flag of any country. Any national flag may be flown on a single vertical flagstaff, so long as it does not have anything added to the design of the flag or any advertising material added to the flagstaff." This means that the flying of a national flag in such a manner should be ok, even if it can be construed as a commercial advertisement. In the 1990s, the EU flag was also included in this category, and the change referred to recently in the context of the Devon flag has added the Commonwealth [of Nations] flag, the United Nations flag, and "English county and saints' flags (where these are associated with a particular county)".
<http://www.communities.gov.uk/pub/751/RegulatoryImpactAssessmentTheTownandCountryPlanningControlofAdvertisementsEngla7_id1508751.pdf>

Other flag advertisements are also deemed to be given consent, meaning permission need not be applied for, but the authority can withdraw permission and stop the practice. In this category falls the display of one flag on a fixed vertical flagstaff on the roof of a building. This flag can only feature "the name, emblem, device or trademark of the company or person occupying the building" or "refer to specific event of a limited duration taking place in the building" during the duration of the event. In particular, flags cannot promote particular products.

The other class of flags that do not need express consent, included in 1994 ( <http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1144416>, is flags at residential building sites outside certain conservation areas. These can be flown until all the homes are sold or have been completed for more than a year. The number of flags allowed depends on the number of houses. This rule explains the vague impression I had that building companies displayed flags more often than most other companies!

So, in these cases, express permission is not needed. The display of a flag in any other manner from a legally constructed flagpole is not necessarily not allowed. At most, it technically requires permission, which may or may not be granted. It would depend on the local authority, as would any conditions on flagpoles.

(*The definition of "advertisement" in the Planning and Compensation Act 1990: "any word, letter, model, sign, placard, board, notice, awning, blind, device or representation, whether illuminated or not, in the nature of, and employed wholly or partly for the purposes of, advertisement, announcement or direction, and (without prejudice to the previous provisions of this definition) includes any hoarding or similar structure used, or designed or adapted for use, and anything else principally used, or designed or adapted principally for use, for the display of advertisements"
<http://www.communities.gov.uk/pub/818/DraftGovernmentCircularTownandCountryPlanningControlofAdvertisementsRegulationsn_id1501818.pdf>
Jonathan Dixon, 26 March 2007


People don't understand the regulations and because there is a wide degree of variance in application of the national regulations by the local government officials who are responsible for enforcement. It is important to understand that although there are common regulations, insofar as England is concerned, the application of them is not uniform.

Planning regulations governing the display of flags in England are currently the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and are laid before the British Parliament at Westminster, which is comprised of Members of Parliament from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England. No such reciprocal arrangement exists in respect of the devolved administrations in those constituent countries and provinces. This email deals principally with the situation in England.

There are two principal sets of regulations referred to: the 1992 (Statutory Instrument 666 of 1992) and 2007 regulations, which are cited below. The 1992 regulations applied to England and Wales, as they were promulgated prior to devolution. The 2007 regulations apply to England only.

It is quite clear from the 1992 and the 2007 regulations that flags are considered as advertising and that, moreover, there is no distinction in the 2007 legislation between flags at premises used for business and those which are residential.

National flags were not excluded under the 1992 and are not under the 2007 regulations excluded - they are exempt from the requirement for either deemed or express planning permission. Such installations and displays still have to comply with standard conditions, covering such matters as visual amenity, that they are not to obstruct surveillance cameras and traffic signs and so on.

Under the 1992 regulations, Class I of exempt advertisements was "the national flag of any country". There was no reference to the flag of the European Union. Moreover, there were further conditions applied to this in that each flag was to be displayed on a vertical flagstaff and neither the flag or the flagstaff was to have anything "additional to the design of the flag".

It is up to local planning authorities around the country to enforce these planning regulations and the wide degree of interpretation that individual authorities have is well illustrated by this example. However, it is quite clear under both the 1992 and 2007 regulations that a single national flag is acceptable, provided the standard conditions were also met.

Sources:

  1. Statutory Instrument 783 of 2007, The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007, as consulted Office of Public Sector Information web site, <http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2007/20070783.htm>, as consulted 24 April 2007
  2. Statutory Instrument 666 of 1992, The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 1992, as consulted Office of Public Sector Information web site, <http://www.opsi.gov.uk/SI/si1992/Uksi_19920666_en_1.htm>, as consulted 24 April 2007

Colin Dobson, 24 April 2007


An example of this was related in a letter to the Daily Telegraph earlier this month. A resident of Wiltshire was told that flagpoles, despite their height, could be erected without planning permission, as long as only national flags were flown. When he flew the flag of Wiltshire, someone reported him to the planning authorities, who told him that he was free to fly any national flag, such as North Korea or Iraq, but if he wanted to fly the flag of his county he would have to pay a fee of seventy-five pounds for planning permission.
David Prothero, 24 April 2007

This is exactly what the most recent change to the regulations is intended to allow - adding "county and saints' flags (where these are associated with a particular county)" to the list of flags that are excluded from local control. Ivan told us about a report of this in a Devon newspaper on March 20, but the links provided by Colin show that it did not come into force until 6 April. Presumably the incident referred by the Wiltshire letter writer occurred before this date.
Jonathan Dixon, 25 April 2007


The regulations concerning flags seems to have arisen as the result of Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 1960. Consent of local planning authority to display of advertisements.

Advertisements defined as, "any word, letter, model, sign, placard, board, notice, device or representation, whether illuminated or not, in the nature of and employed wholly or in part for the purpose of advertising, announcement or direction. Excepting any advertisement in the form of a flag which is attached to a single flag staff, fixed in an upright position on the roof of a building which bears no insignia or emblem other than the name or device of a person or persons occupying the building." [National Archives (PRO) CAB 164/496]
David Prothero, 27 April 2007


Malawi

When I was coaching Malawi's national basketball team, I took them abroad to try and qualify for the 1992 Olympics. We were told to bring a Malawian flag for the opening ceremonies. Nobody would give me one, let me borrow one, or even buy one with my own money because I didn't have "permission" to have one and had not jumped through all of the hoops to get permission.

Anyway, I had a Malawian flag that I had bought in the US and we took that. When the picture of the team was seen in the Malawian paper marching with the flag, the sports council got upset that I had sneaked a flag out of the country without the authority to do so.

When I informed them that the flag was mine, bought in the US, and I intended to carry it wherever I wanted whenever I wanted, they simply couldn't wrap their minds around the idea. Then they asked me who gave me permission in the US to buy a Malawian flag. I started to make an effort to explain but realized there was absolutely no use.
Clay Moss, 29 March 2007


United States

There have been several incidents in various parts of the US where a flag was interdicted by a "homeowners' organization" (i.e., the enforcement authority for the developer of a suburb, based on private covenants, not laws or regulations of a political entity) on the grounds that a flag on a pole, any flag, is a noisy nuisance or unseemly display that destroys the studied calm of the place. ... sort of like a "dress code" that forbids shorts, or requires that gentlemen must wear a tie and jacket.

There was also a recent case of a small town in Colorado or Utah, I believe, forbidding the flying of any flag other than the US S&S and the state flag. ISTR that this rule was, in fact, overturned, however.
Bill Dunning, 29 March 2007

It does remind me of an episode of the animated TV series "King of the Hill" in which Hank "rescues" (I forget why; I think it was a closing military base's) a huge American flag and flies it outside his house. The problem is that the flag is about twenty by forty feet, as high as the house, almost touches the ground when on the pole, casts a shadow over everything and makes quite a lot of noise when flying. I think he eventually replaces it with a more reasonably-sized (for his house) one.
Nathan Lamm, 1 April 2007


Sweden

There was an interesting case in Sweden last year too. A family used to fly the flag (of Sweden) almost every day or so, or at least many days a week. The neighbours were able to get a court order saying they could not fly the flag that often, because it was noisy and cast disturbing shadows.
Elias Granqvist, 31 March 2007


 
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