Newspapers could lose up to £15m a year in advertising revenue under new proposals on planning application notices presented to the Government, the Newspaper Society has warned.
The Housing and Planning Department is reviewing the planning permission process with the possibility of the removal of the mandatory requirement for notices to be placed in newspapers.
The review has been presented to the department by Essex County Council chief executive of Joanna Killian and David Pretty, the former group chief executive of Barratt Developments.
The report proposes that the process of seeking planning permission should be sped up and recommends that councils should be given “greater freedom over how they should publicise new planning applications”.
It said these measures will give the local authorities the flexibility to spend the estimated £15m per year that is currently spent on newspaper advertisements ‘in the way they see fit to best engage their local communities”.
The recommendation aims to help local authorities allocate their communication budgets more effectively by “using those means of communication most effective for their geographical area and communities”.
The Newspaper Society has called for an urgent meeting with the Housing and Planning Minister Margaret Beckett to discuss the recommendations, and has said that the proposed plans would have a damaging affect on the revenue of local newspapers.”
The Newspaper Society’s communications director Lynne Anderson said: ‘Not only would councils be encouraged to rely on cheaper but less effective information channels, undermining the public’s right to know, such a move would further damage the local media industry, cutting off an important revenue stream at a critical time when it is tackling the worst commercial conditions in memory.
‘All those in government who voiced concern about the BBC Local plans should bear in mind that local authorities are in danger of inflicting very similar damage to the industry with their publicly-funded competition for third party advertising revenues on council publications and websites and the removal of public sector advertising.”
Anderson said that the Newspaper Society was also concerned that removing the mandatory requirement for local authorities to publish statutory notices in newspapers could lead to a ‘more secretive, less open government’and to ‘many grass roots issues being decided without consultation and debate”.
She said: ‘It is quite possible to imagine that a council might find it advantageous to post certain controversial notices on an obscure part of their website away from the public’s gaze.”
A Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “We are now considering the recommendations and will publish an implementation plan early in the new year, setting out in more detail how we intend to respond to the proposals.
“The review recommends that councils are still required to advertise planning applications but will have the freedom to choose how, whether through newspaper publication or other methods such as web publication.
“Our current economic difficulties has reinforced our need for a leaner, more effective and faster applications process.
“The Killian Pretty Review has provided small businesses and councils with a recipe to save up to £300m a year through a surgical overhaul of the bureaucratic application process.
“The review supports the democratic right to information and stresses that transparency must be preserved in any changes.”