Secrecy warning on plan to scrap press traffic notices

Politicians have expressed unease over proposals to scrap the legal obligation on councils to advertise traffic orders in local newspapers – a move that could cost the industry as much as £20m a year.

The Department for Transport (DoT) wants to abolish the ‘cost burden’on local authorities and allow them to advertise via alternative means such as on their own websites or by leafleting local residents.

The Newspaper Society has stepped up its lobbying efforts and is seeking a meeting with transport minister Norman Baker to discuss the regional press industry’s ‘deep concerns’over the proposals.

In a letter to the Under-Secretary for Transport this week the Newspaper Society’s communications and marketing director Lynne Anderson said: ‘There are countless stories about local campaigns and protests which were sparked following publication of public notices in the local newspaper.

‘The NS believes that removing the mandatory requirement for local authorities to publish statutory notices such as traffic orders in newspapers is likely to lead to a more secretive, less open government and to many grass roots issues being decided without proper consultation and debate.

‘If this proposal came into effect, 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 some of the worst commercial conditions in memory.”

The Newspaper Society also quotes a number of MPs voicing their opposition to the proposals including Stephen Phillips, MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham.

‘I don’t think it’s a very good idea,’he said. ‘In a patch like mine, many elderly people get their information only from the local press – they don’t have internet access and would not necessarily search for the information which local authorities currently have to publish anyway.

Greg Knight, MP for East Yorkshire, said: ‘I do think advertising in local newspapers is the appropriate way forward and this should override any question of cost.’

South Holland District councillor Nick Worth said: ‘In my personal opinion if public notices did not appear in newspapers it would be a nightmare because they are vital in letting people know when there is a road closure so they can then plan accordingly.

‘I could see people getting aggravated if they are out and about and just find a road they wanted to use is closed.”

The DoT estimates that 80 per cent of councils will stop advertising in local newspapers if the proposals get the green light, costing the industry around £16.5m a year.

But if all advertising was to migrate away from the local press then revenue losses could rise to as much as much as £20m a year.

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