Show your support and help to keep public notices in trusted newspapers
- Credit: Archant
Your neighbour wants to build a large extension to the back of their home which could block the sunlight coming into your house.
A housing developer wants to turn the playground your kids go to after school into a new estate.
The council plans to build a new recycling centre just down the road from your home.
Thankfully, none of these examples are real but they serve to illustrate just how important planning issues are to our daily lives.
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Any change in our local environment can have profound consequences for us, both good and bad, depending on your viewpoint.
Some of us might welcome a new recycling centre down the road as it will be more convenient. Others may see the additional traffic as an unwelcome nuisance.
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But, whatever your view, the important principle in our current system is that you are made aware of the proposed changes before they get the green light.
That way, the pros and cons can be debated openly, and everyone is given the opportunity to have their say.
This commitment to transparency is underpinned by a longstanding obligation on councils to publish planning notices in local newspapers.
In addition to using local papers, councils are free to publicise the notices through their own channels and on social media if they wish to do so.
And, crucially, local authorities can work with local papers to use the reach of local newspapers’ own digital channels.
If you combine print and digital reach, local news brands now enjoy huge audiences – 40.6 million 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.
As an industry, we are very open to finding new and innovative ways for councils to communicate with the public.
But 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.
When it launched the ‘Planning for the Future’ consultation, the Government unveiled the most significant shake-up to the UK’s planning system since the 1940s.
A key part of this, according to the White Paper, will be to enhance democracy and transparency in the planning system; laudable objectives which we wholeheartedly support.
But at least one measure in the consultation would do the exact opposite; the removal of the statutory requirement for councils to publicise planning notices in local newspapers.
If this were to go ahead, we fear that the public access to important information would be severely impaired.
Instead of being published in trusted local newspapers and across their digital channels, planning notices would be cast into the void of misinformation and fake news that is social media.
Or they would placed in a little-visited part of a council website.
And, what’s more, those of you who prefer to get your news through a printed newspaper would never see the notices at all.
As your local paper, we firmly believe in your right to know and we fight hard for it on your behalf every day of the week.
In the digital era, we want to work with councils to find innovative new ways to help people find planning notices
But removing the obligation to publish in print will damage that collaboration and lead to the notices being hidden from public view.
If you believe in the public right to know, then please contact your MP and ask them to make representations to Government about this on your behalf.
Your local newspaper stands for transparency and fights for your right to know every day. Now, you can help us defend these vital principles which underpin our democratic way of life.
Anne Suslak, editor, the Comet
Write to your MP Stephen McPartland at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Stephen McPartland, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
For Hitchin write to Bim Afolami at email@example.com, for Mid Bedfordshire write to firstname.lastname@example.org, for North East Bedfordshire write to richard.fuller.mp@parliament,uk, and for North East Hertfordshire write to email@example.com, or send a letter addressed to your MP at the House of Commons.