05:19PM, Friday 23 October 2020
Your neighbour wants to build a large extension to the back of their home which could block the sunlight coming into your house.
A developer wants to turn the play-ground your kids go to into an estate.
The council plans to build a recycling centre near your home.
Thankfully, none of these examples are real but they serve to illustrate just how important planning issues are.
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. 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 under-pinned by a longstanding obligation on councils to publish planning notices in local newspapers.
In addition to using local papers, councils are free to publicise notices through their own channels and on social media, and, crucially, they can utilise local papers’ 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 open to finding new 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 Govern-ment unveiled the most significant shake-up to the UK’s planning system since the 1940s. A key part of this 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, public access to important information may 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 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 damages that collaboration and will lead to 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