MPs Call For Planning Notices To Stay In Local Papers

An influential committee of MPs has backed the News Media Association’s call for public notices to stay in printed local newspapers arguing that removing the statutory requirement on councils to publish in local papers would create “a postcode lottery as to whether such notices continue.”    

The NMA welcomed the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s ‘The future of the planning system in England’ report published today which called for the existing system of publicising the notices to be maintained, alongside the development of digital solutions.

The NMA, which submitted evidence to the Committee cited in the report, said: “We welcome the Committee’s thoughtful report today which underscores the importance of keeping public notices in printed local newspapers while exploring opportunities to further public engagement through digital solutions.

“To that end, the local news media sector is working to develop an industry portal for public notices which, alongside the notices in printed newspapers, will further increase public engagement with public notices by harnessing local media’s growing digital reach.”

In the report, MPs said they welcomed the “greater use of digital technology in the planning system” but recognised “the need to ensure those lacking access can know about and participate in the planning process.”

“The Minister suggested that the existing statutory notices in local newspapers and on lampposts would become a matter of discretion for local authorities,” the Committee added. “We do not agree with this approach. It risks creating a postcode lottery as to whether such notices continue.

“This would disadvantage those residing in financially stretched councils and those moving into local authorities where such practices have been discontinued. The existing statutory notices should be retained for all local authorities, to be used alongside technology.

“We propose the use of virtual participation in planning meetings continue alongside in-person meetings after the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. We also propose that local authorities should experiment with novel ways of engaging the public with the wider planning system, for instance through the use of citizens assemblies.”

MPs cited concerns about the automation of the planning process from a variety of groups including Friends of the Earth, Civic Voice, Wildlife and Countryside Link and their call for a continuation of “traditional” methods of publicising the notices digital innovations.

“Consequently, there were calls for the preservation of existing methods of advertising planning applications and Local Plan consultations through signs on lampposts, walk in ‘town hall’ events, face to face engagement (e.g. through workshops), hard copy documentation, and notices in local newspapers. We were told that this helped to ‘push’ information to the public.

“The techniques of neighbourhood planning were recommended as a way to enhance public engagement. The News Media Association stressed to us the harmful impact on local newspapers that would result from withdrawing statutory notices. It was suggested in both written and oral evidence that a review of the role of local newspapers might be due.”

The Government’s reponse to the report is due by 10 August.