Parliamentary Written Answer of the Week…

They don’t have to be dull.  As demonstrated yesterday by the clearly well-read Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, Conservative MP, Brandon Lewis.  Here’s the nominated written question and answer

Tom Blenkinsop: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether his Department has any plans to deregulate the publication of planning permission applications in local newspapers. [149335]

Brandon Lewis [holding answer 21 March 2013]: Ministers have been clear that, in an internet age, commercial newspapers should expect over time less state advertising as more information is syndicated online by local authorities for free. The flipside is the free press should not face state unfair competition from town hall newspapers and municipal propaganda dressed up as local reporting.

However, my Department does not have any current plans to remove the statutory requirement for certain planning applications to be advertised in newspapers. Such notices ensure that the public are informed of decisions by their local authority which may affect their quality of life, local amenity or their property. This is especially the case in relation to planning applications, where there is a limited period for local residents to make representations.

The last Administration produced a consultation paper on this issue, proposing to remove the statutory requirements to publish notices in newspapers (Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘Publicity for planning applications’, July 2009). This was not well-received. Following that consultation, the Administration concluded:

“The Government has decided not to take forward this amendment. This means that the statutory requirement to publish certain applications in newspapers remains. It is clear from the responses that some members of the public and community groups rely on the statutory notices in newspapers to learn about planning applications in their area. The Government is not convinced that good alternative arrangements can be readily rolled out”.

(Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘Publicity for planning applications: Summary of responses to consultation’, December 2009, p. 14).

More broadly, in response to his implicit suggestion that such notices should be abolished in newspapers, I would direct the hon. Member to a passage from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“People of Earth, your attention, please… This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council. As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system, and regrettably, your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes. Thank you…

There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now…

What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs, that’s your own lookout. Energize the demolition beams.” [added emphasis]


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