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How are you planning to respond to Eric Pickles?

By September 27, 2013 No Comments

Last month the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government took his fight against councils that don’t open their doors to cameras and bloggers on to new territory.

Mr Pickles inserted into planning practice guidance a section that “makes clear the rights for members of the press and public, including bloggers and hyperlocal journalists, to report, film and tweet planning appeal hearings,” as CLG’s press release put it.

The new guidance read:

“Hearings and inquiries are open to journalists and the wider public, as well as interested people. Provided that it does not disrupt proceedings, anyone will be allowed to report, record and film proceedings including the use of digital and social media. Inspectors will advise people present at the start of the event that the proceedings may be recorded and/or filmed, and that anyone using social media during or after the end of the proceedings should do so responsibly.”

In the press release, this was described as a “challenge to councils to open up their planning committees and other meetings in return.”

We’ve said a few times before that councils should welcome bloggers armed with or without video cameras – not least because more dissemination and consumption of council proceedings is a very good thing at a time when fewer and fewer people choose to vote in local elections. But what Mr Pickles’ challenge didn’t acknowledge was that while it’s important to let the community and journalists film proceedings, there’s a more effective way of increasing transparency and supporting their efforts – by the council filming its meetings.

It’s something that councils up and down the land are already doing – and have (at the LGA Conference) directly pointed out to Mr Pickles.

Bristol City Council, for example, has experienced very high demand for access to planning meetings, relating to the redevelopment of Bristol Rovers’ Memorial stadium. As Zoe Willcox, Bristol’s director of planning and sustainability, told us at the time, 3,709 people were able to watch a meeting online that would have otherwise only been available to 200 people, sitting in the room.

There are other examples of clients that have used webcasting for planning. They include:-

  • Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council chose to webcast a planning committee in April this year, due to exceptional levels of public interest in the meetings that would exceed public gallery space. Watch the meeting here.
  • Powys County Council is among a number of councils that have been dealing with contentious planning applications for wind farms – where with active campaigns fighting against and for the applications have emerged. As a result of the huge public interest the Council chose to webcast a number of the meetings, which you can see here.

And there are many more examples of councils using webcasting in a similar way – including public inquiries in St Albans in 2009 (these webcasts are no longer available). Beyond these more exceptional examples, many more councils use their webcasting systems to broadcast planning/development control meetings regularly. By doing so they’re making sure that many more people can take part in the planning process, boosting transparency and helping to promote more engagement in an aspect of council business that is becoming more and more important. Furthermore, and as we have said before, a webcast is a digital record that everyone – irrespective of prejudice or purpose – has equal access to.

Because councils own the copyright to the meetings that they webcast they also have it in their power to allow these resources to be shared – and used – by others. Webcasts can be embedded and started at specific points, allowing bloggers and journalists the ability to use these assets and refer to them in their coverage. And by keeping a ‘digital record’ of the whole meeting the council and others have a resource that can be used to fact-check other people’s version of events. It’s an intelligent response to Mr Pickles’ challenge – and one many, many councils are already providing.

If you’re interested in finding out more then we can call you or you can call us. Email info@public-i.info or call 01273 821 282.

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