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Tue June 15 2021

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Pickles backs tweeting from planning meetings

23 Aug 13 Local government secretary Eric Pickles has warned that freedom of speech and independent journalism are under attack in local government, following local residents being threatened with arrest for filming and reporting meetings.

PIckles will be publishing new guidance that formally opens up planning appeal hearings to be filmed, tweeted and reported. He laid down a challenge to councils to open up their planning committees and other meetings in return.

As part of the government’s review of planning practice guidance, new guidance by the Planning Inspectorate will make clear the rights for members of the press and public, including local bloggers and hyperlocal journalists, to report, film and tweet planning appeal hearings. Ministers hope this will “open up a previously mysterious and rarely seen side of the planning process”.

The Planning Inspectorate determines 20,000 appeals a year, of which roughly 2,000 are via hearings or inquiries, compared to almost half a million planning applications considered by councils. The number of applications going to appeal has fallen since 2010.

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In June, Pickles published guidance to councils asking them to open up to overt filming and social media. However, some councils are still continuing to oppose an independent press:

  • Wirral Council has said filming a planning committee would compromise “health and safety
  • Tower Hamlets Council barred a 71-year-old resident from filming due the risk of “reputational damage to the authority”
  • Keighley Town Council blocked residents filming as it would amount to a “breach of standing orders”
  • Bexley Council said audio and visual filming would breach its “agreed protocol”
  • Stamford Town Council has placed a ban on journalists tweeting from meetings due to the risk of them “not accurately portraying a debate”
  • a blogger in Huntingdonshire was removed by police for filming, and has advised fellow bloggers to “be prepared for the police to be called and the possibility of arrest” if they try to film or report council meetings.

Pickles said: “Watching television programmes like Grand Designs, viewers have been baffled as cameras are stopped from filming meetings of the planning committee. Councillors shouldn’t be ashamed or be trying to hide the work they do. I am opening up the planning appeals that my department oversees, so the public can see how the planning system works in practice. Councils should match this by opening up their planning meetings and other committees.”

Heavy-handed councils who call the police to suppress freedom of speech are abusing state powers, he said.

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