SoE backs call by newspaper groups to protect press planning notices

Posted on: September 28, 2020 by Claire Meadows

The Society of Editors (SoE) is backing a call by regional newspaper groups and MPs to safeguard the publication of planning notices in local papers.

The Government has announced a review of the current policy that states public announcements such as planning notices must be placed in regional newspapers by local authorities.

The review last week saw a co-ordinated campaign across Newsquest and Archant titles in which papers and websites carried the same editorial urging readers to oppose the proposals, which contribute an estimated £10m to the sector each year.

The review has also seen a number of MPs table written parliamentary questions for Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick asking about the potential impact of removing the notices on local journalism.

Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors said that the SoE was supporting the calls and would be responding to the consultation in due course.

He said: “Following the announcement in August that the requirement to publish planning notices in local papers was under review, the Society has warned against any attempt to remove this important requirement.

“As reiterated by Newsquest and Archant titles, the 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 are kept abreast of important matters of public interest in their communities. Ensuring that the obligation to continue to publish notices in local papers is the best way to ensure that the public’s right to know remains fulfilled.

“The Society will be responding to the government’s consultations in due course.”

The Government published the Planning for the Future White Paper in August, setting out ways it could modernise the planning process including by removing the requirement for local authorities to print statutory notices in local newspapers in favour of digital modes of communication.

Warning against the proposals last week, titles such as the Hereford Times, Bradford Telegraph & Argus and Ham & High in London said that removing the requirement would result in public access to important information being severely impaired.

Writing in the Hereford Times, John Wilson, the Editor of the title said: “As well as publishing these notices in this newspaper, we also publish them on our local website to ensure that awareness and access to this important information is as wide as possible.

“If you combine print and digital reach, local news brands such as the Hereford Times across the UK now enjoy huge audiences – 40.6 million visitors a month, according to JICREG. And that powerful reach and unique connection with local communities is at the disposal of councils when they need to communicate with the public.

“We firmly believe that the obligation to publish public notices in printed local papers is critical to ensuring that councils and local papers work effectively together in this way.”

The News Media Association (NMA) has reported that MPs are also concerned about the financial impact of any proposed changes on an industry already struggling in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on ad revenue.

Tabling parliamentary questions for Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, Conservative MPs in York and Christchurch highlighted the issue.

Julian Sturdy, Conservative MP for York Outer, asked, “what assessment his Department has made of the potential effect of the removal of the statutory requirement to publicise planning applications in local newspapers on (a) transparency and (b) local accountability in the planning process.”

In another written question Sir Christopher Chope, Conservative MP for Christchurch, asked, “what regulatory impact assessment he has carried out on the proposal to remove statutory requirements for planning applications to be publicised in local newspapers; and if he will make a statement.

The White Paper is open for consultation until 29 October 2020 and the Changes to the Current Planning System consultation closes on Thursday 1 October 2020.