NMA: Public Notices Must Stay In Local Newspapers

The News Media Association has stressed the need for public notices to stay in printed local newspapers after major reforms to the planning system were trailed in Queen’s Speech earlier this week.

A summary of forthcoming legislation said the Planning Bill, reportedly expected in the autumn, said the planning system would be digitised “to make it more visual and easier for local people to meaningfully engage with.”

The NMA and its local members are working on a new project to increase digital engagement with public notices by creating an industry digital portal for public notices including planning and traffic regulation orders, published right across the country.

But, as the NMA has repeatedly stressed to officials and Ministers, boosting public digital engagement with public notices must not come at the expense of the requirement for local authorities to place them in printed local newspapers.

Such a move would see 10 million people, many of whom are in vulnerable or elderly groups, cut off from viewing the notices, creating a serious democratic deficit, according to independent research from BVA BDRC.

The move would deliver a hammer blow to local journalism at a time when the sector is facing other severe challenges, as the revenue stream from printed public notices would disappear.

Ministers have repeatedly acknowledged the importance of public notices to local newspapers. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said Government understands the role public notices play in local newspapers and was “working closely to ensure that we protect that.”

Minister for Media and Data Mr Whittingdale said the removal of public notices would do “serious damage” to the local news media sector.

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.”