Public notice obligations ‘integral’ to public’s right to know

Posted on: October 26, 2020 by Claire Meadows

The obligation for councils to publish public notices in local newspapers is ‘integral’ to ensuring the public’s right to know remains fulfilled, the Society of Editors (SoE) has warned.

Responding to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) consultation on Planning for the Future, the Society said that while it supported efforts to modernise the day-to-day operation of the planning system, any new legislation put forward to simplify the planning process must protect rulings that public notices be carried in local newspapers.

Ian Murray, Executive Director of the SoE said that the present planning publicity system worked well and any decision to remove the statutory requirement for public notices to be published in local papers was likely to lead to perceptions of reduced accountability and transparency.

He added: “It is not always in the interest of local authorities to shine a spotlight and publicise controversial changes so the statutory duty to do so in local papers and on news websites is a vital means of ensuring the public’s right to know is fulfilled alongside greater understanding of how local governmental decisions are being made.”

The Society has previously expressed concern around proposals by the government to scrap public notice obligations in local papers. The government’s review of the current policy also proposes wide-ranging changes to planning laws and has seen regional newspaper groups and MPs call on the government to safeguard planning notices in local papers. The government’s ongoing review of the planning system has also seen the Society support the extension of publicity requirements around Permission in Principle (PiP) applications to the local press if the scheme is expanded to include major housing developments as proposed.

The Society has highlighted the reach of local newspapers both in print and online and pointed to the News Media Association’s (NMA) estimation that local news brands across the UK now enjoy huge audiences – 40.6 million visitors a month, according to JICREG figures.

Murray said that the media’s reach and unique connection with local communities continued to be at the disposal of councils when they needed to communicate with the public and any decision to stop utilising this channel of communication appeared unjustifiable and misguided.

He added: “The perception and transparency of local democracy is underpinned by the longstanding obligation on councils to publish planning notices in local newspapers. It is essential that hard to reach communities and those that rely on traditional media continue to be kept abreast of important matters that are being made in their name. Ensuring that the obligation to continue to publish notices in local papers is maintained is the best way to ensure that the public’s right to know remains fulfilled.”