Barry Peters: It’s time for the Department of Transport to think again

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Have your say

The Bury Free Press has long defended the rights of the people of Bury St Edmunds and West Suffolk – and continues to fight for you each week.

As the editor, it’s down to me to make sure that authority in general does not ride roughshod over the rights of local people without question and that any wrongdoing is seen to be brought to account.

Now it’s the Department of Transport (DoT) which has hit my radar.

In its wisdom, the DoT has launched consultation to allow local authorities, the Highways Agency, utilities companies and other relevant businesses such as property developers, to advertise Traffic Regulation Orders in places other than local newspapers. It claims that this is a deregulatory measure, to cut red tape and save them £20 million in advertising costs per year.

At face value, you could argue it’s a laudable proposition – newspapers make enough money without giving them hard-earned government cash in the current economic climate.

But I’m vehemently opposed to the plans – in the interests of an open and fair society, I believe every snippet of information should be available to as wide an audience as possible, not squirrelled away on a website no-one looks at.

I contend that the most appropriate and effective place for publicising traffic regulation orders is in the local and regional press. The Bury Free Press and its sister titles within Johnston Press across the UK play a crucial role in informing local communities of these matters which really affect readers’ daily lives, in addition to their broader role in local democracy and holding local authorities to account.

I would argue strongly that the Department for Transport’s proposal is driven entirely by cost saving with little regard for the future of publicising the notices to the greatest number of people. Placing them on council/government websites will severely restrict the general public’s access to them and their awareness of information affecting them.

You will be aware that your local press is facing extremely challenging economic conditions, as are other businesses across West Suffolk. Local newspapers such as the Bury Free Press depend upon advertising revenue to underpin their journalistic and other services for their local communities. This proposal to ‘save’ £20m of revenue from our industry will just compound the pressure – while at the same time strike at the heart of local democracy.