Editor warns against removing public notices from press

The editor of The Rotherham Advertiser has warned that removing the statutory publication of planning applications from local titles could lead to the closure of some newspapers.

Doug Melloy raised fears that local authorities switching publication of public notices from local papers to the internet could be “the final straw” for a number of endangered titles.

In a letter to Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham, Melloy also warned the move could harm local democracy as a broad swathe of the public lacked web access and IT knowledge.

Melloy wrote: “There is no certainty that local authorities would reach a wider audience by switching to internet advertising…

“The reality is that the internet is not the most effective way of making contact with the general public and its increased use, rather than reaching a wider audience, could have the opposite effect, especially as internet accessibility is somewhat fragmented.”

MacShane has since written to John Denham, Communities and Local Government secretary, for assurance that local authorities would be obliged to publish statutory notices in the local print media.

Concerns were raised in the local media after production of a report by the Cabinet Office in 2007 which found the mandatory requirement for statutory notices to be published in the local press was not necessarily the best way to ensure “community involvement”.

An independent review of planning applications, published late last year, also recommended that local authorities should be free to choose where to place the notices – opening up the possibility of them only being published on councils’ own websites or newsletters.

Melloy said notices should remain in local newspapers, as they were already “culturally ingrained” and an established route to informing the public – pointing to how his paper has an average circulation of around 30,000 and a readership in excess of 100,000.

He said: “The internet on the other hand is a far less convenient and accessible conduit to raise public awareness of planning applications and is also more vulnerable to obscuring more controversial applications among the plethora of information on websites.”

Melloy warned the removal of traditional means of informing the public of potential changes to their environment could prove undemocratic and have a detrimental impact on a newspaper’s commercial viability.

He said: “For some newspapers the loss of advertising revenue from planning notices could be the final straw and we firmly believe that the loss of local newspapers serving their communities in a unique way is not a price worth paying to amend a process which already serves the public so well.”

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