Backlash against information blackout

SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

COMMUNITIES across Tynedale are already feeling the effects of an information blackout imposed by Northumberland County Council.

From planning applications and road closures to proposals to modify public rights of way; over the past three months dozens of statutory notices relating to the district have been published in a newspaper based 50 miles away.

The council’s decision to withdraw the notices from the Hexham Courant and, instead, place them in the Alnwick-based Northumberland Gazette has prompted a public backlash.

In response, a petition launched by the Courant calling on the council to reverse its decision in the interests of local democracy, attracted well over 200 signatures within 48 hours.

County councillors across Tynedale have quizzed the council’s chief executive, Steven Mason, on the decision which was made without their knowledge.

Leader of Northumberland Conservatives, Coun. Peter Jackson, said: “The feedback a received was deeply unsatisfactory and smacks of press regulation and censorship.

“Residents in Tynedale have a legal right to have access to this vital information.”

However, when pressed on the council’s obligation to keep residents across the district properly informed, Mr Mason – in correspondence with the Courant this week – labelled the legislation surrounding the subject as “outdated and outmoded.”

He went on to suggest that increased use of the Gazette had “only an imagined impact on the issues of local democracy, transparency and accountability and not a real one.”

When consulted on the situation, a spokesman the Department for Communities and Local Government, said: “Legislation requires statutory notices to be advertised by local authorities in relevant local newspapers.

“Local authorities should abide by this legislation, if the public are concerned this is not the case, they should take this up with their local authority.”

And Mayor of Hexham, Coun. Trevor Cessford, has plans to do just that.

At a meeting on Monday he will seek the support of his town council colleagues to press the county council to reverse its decision.

“I’m bringing it up at the town council because Steven Mason says the policy has been adopted on a trial basis.

“If it is a trial basis, we think that trial isn’t working, and we want to let them know we don’t like what they’re doing.

“It’s typical of the arrogance of the county council to react like this.”

You can show your support for the ‘Your right to know’ campaign by adding your name to the petition online at cngroup.secondstreetapp.com/Hexham-Petition or by signing a paper copy found in the Hexham Courant offices on Beaumont Street, Hexham.

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