Public Notices: Government Restates Commitment To Consider Impact On Local Newspapers  

The Government is “mindful” of the impact that changes to the public notices regime may have on local democracy and local newspapers which will be considered before any decisions are taken, John Whittingdale has said.

Restating Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s commitment to work to protect the vital revenues from public notices which fund local journalism, Minister for Media and Data Mr Whittingdale said their removal would do “serious damage” to the sector.

Responding to a Parliamentary question from Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, Mr Whittingdale said: “We are mindful of the potential impact that any changes to the requirements might have on transparency and local democracy, as well as the potential effect on local newspaper revenue.

“Indeed the independent Cairncross Review into the future of journalism found that statutory notices, including planning notices, provide an important strand of revenue for many local publishers and that their withdrawal would do serious damage to parts of the sector. We also recognise the importance of local newspapers to communities and the continued need to reach out to people who cannot digitally access information.

“Proposals to reform publicity requirements are being considered through the “Planning for the Future” White Paper which aims to make it simpler, quicker and more accessible for local people to engage with the planning system using digital tools.

“MHCLG is considering consultation responses and will publish a response in due course, and the impact on transparency and local democracy, as well as on local newspaper revenue will be considered before any decisions are taken.”

The News Media Association is campaigning for public notices to be kept in printed local newspapers after it emerged that both transport and planning notices, the two main categories of public notices, were under threat.

The NMA has written to Ministers to explain that the local news media sector is leading the way in boosting engagement with public notices with innovations such as the public notices portal and the new public notices publishing guidelines.

Responding to a question to the Communities Secretary from Fay Jones, Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, Housing Minister Chris Pincher said Government recognised the importance of local newspapers to communities.

He said: “The use of digital tools is important to be able to standardise and improve the user interface where local people seek to engage in the planning system. It is not a replacement for engagement but is a tool to make this engagement more transparent and more accessible to all parts of communities across England.

“This is particularly the case for publicity of planning applications where we want to see greater digital coverage, and we will be exploring the best way of doing that as we develop our proposals to reform the planning system.

“In doing so, we recognise the importance of local newspapers to communities and that there will continue to be a need to reach out to people without digital access to information.”

Responding to a separate question to the Transport Secretary from Ms Jones, DFT Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Rachel Maclean said DFT was planning to consult on proposed reforms to Traffic Regulation Orders more generally later in 2021 and an impact assessment would accompany this consultation.