More MPs Voice Support For Local Press Over Planning Notices

More MPs have come out in support of quality local journalism by tabling Parliamentary Questions calling on Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick to keep planning notices in local newspapers as the Government mulls widespread planning reform.

This week, Bob Seely, Conservative, MP for Isle of Wight, became the latest parliamentarian to voice concern over the proposals, tabling a question for the Communities Secretary asking “what assessment he has made of the contribution of the statutory requirement to publicise planning applications in local newspapers to ensuring that there is (a) transparency and (b) democratic engagement in the planning process; and if he will make a statement.”

It is the latest in a series of Parliamentary questions to the Communities Secretary in which MPs have raised concerns about the millions of people who would be excluded from seeing the notices if the requirement to publicise them in local papers was removed, as proposed in the Planning for the Future consultation.

In a comment piece this week, The Yorkshire Post said: “Not only will any imposition of the proposals, part of moves to encourage new developments, directly contradict devolution policy – but they’re also anti-democratic.

“And, given this, it is imperative that as many people as possible register their opposition to the move by the end of Wednesday when the current consultation runs out. The publication of planning notices in local newspapers, the most trusted media of all, are fundamental when it comes to alerting people, and businesses, about new applications. They’re the foundations of local democracy and accountability.”

The News Media Association, which is campaigning against the proposals, is encouraging news publishers to submit their responses to a MHCLG Select Committee survey to highlight concerns around removing the requirement for public notices to be printed in local newspapers.

The survey will closes today and publishers can submit their responses here.

The Select Committee also published this week responses to its call for written evidence relating to its inquiry on the future of the planning system in England.

In its response, the News Media Association called for the requirement on local authorities to publish planning notices in local press to be maintained highlighting the damage that would be done to local accountability if it were removed.

“If the Government decided against retaining mandatory newspaper publication of planning notices in the reformed system, this would obstruct and diminish public alert, input and engagement in development proposals, not improve public engagement,” the NMA said.  

“Such a decision could also weaken the viability of many local titles, to the further detriment of their local communities and loss of public oversight and democratic engagement.”

Responding to the consultation, other organisations voiced their support for maintaining the requirement for public notices to stay in local press.

The Country Land and Business Association said: “Effective public engagement is essential. The CLA has long called for greater use of technology within the planning system. However, better use of technology will not by itself be enough to ensure that.

“Firstly, broadband coverage is patchy in rural areas, with some still not having adequate provision. These businesses and communities will not be able to take advantage of the greater use of technology until broadband coverage has been delivered to everybody.

“Public announcements about draft local plan consultations and examinations, and planning applications etc must continue to be published in newspapers, as well as online and in social media.”

In its evidence, Tenterden Town Council said: “It is vital to be informed about plans and planning proposals in a variety of ways: social media, online news, newspaper, by post in addition to the methods employed at present. To only select one method would target only one sector of the community. 

“The proposal to move to a digital first approach, by moving from documents to data is a good objective and can be adopted whatever planning system we chose. However, this in itself does not lend to better place-making or greater democracy. Transparency is to be welcomed, but not at the expense of public engagement.”