It began as a pilot scheme six years ago to reduce the fly-posting that blights the city centre during the festivals in August.
Now questions are being asked about why the project has been running year-round ever since, without being formally reviewed or subjected to normal advert licensing processes, earning a private company significant sums of money.
Council officials are now examining the arrangement with outdoor advert firm City Centre Posters (CCP), with a procurement process involving several firms likely to take place if the so-called Authorised Advertising Project is renewed.
The arrangement is made even more bizarre by the fact that the council last year paid another firm at least £80,000 to do the same thing that CCP was initially tasked with – reduce flyposting during the Festival.
Today councillors said it was inappropriate for a firm to have been allowed to operate at sites including Haymarket, Rose Street and the Grassmarket for so long without scrutiny.
Joanna Mowat, whose City Centre ward includes many of the CCP sites, said: “It definitely needs to be reviewed, because it doesn’t seem to be coming to anyone for any oversight. We also need to understand how it has got to this stage.”
At least 16 advertising drums and five poster sites are managed by CCP under the scheme, without the standard commercial advertising consent which is required under planning law, according to council officials.
The sites include Torphichen Street, where CCP hires out advertising space on hoardings around a council-owned site despite advertising consent being refused and enforcement action ordered in 2012. Several poster sites there began being removed by council workmen after the Evening News raised the matter with the city.
CCP has run the poster sites exclusively since 2009, except for a short period in 2010 when another firm was also involved. Its revenues are unknown, but could run into seven figures over the course of the six years.
Green councillor Gavin Corbett said: “I think generally people are happy to see controls for posters rather than random fly-postering. However, if a programme was launched as a trial it needs to be reviewed and put on a proper footing.”
A council spokeswoman said: “The Authorised Advertising Project began as a pilot project to reduce fly posting. The council has worked with a number of companies that have undertaken the management of advertising sites.
“While the council does not benefit financially from this, there have been substantial savings by reducing the resources needed to remove unauthorised posters and tend to the sites. The project is currently under review.”
CCP owner Tim Horrox declined to comment.