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ROUNDUP OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STORIES IN TODAY'S NEWSPAPERS

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RURAL BILLBOARDS 'SHOULD BE CLEARED BY COUNCILS'...
RURAL BILLBOARDS 'SHOULD BE CLEARED BY COUNCILS'

Planning minister Yvette Cooper has asked local authorities to crack down on billboards erected in fields alongside motorways and other busy roads (Times, p13).

The reason given is that the advertisements blight the countryside and could distract drivers from the road, but the Countryside Alliance feared it could be an attempt to remove its own political hoardings. Farmers said they need the vital income from hosting the ads. Ms Cooper wants advertisers to go through the planning system and consult local councils.

You can read the consultation document here.

LEAKED INFORMATION RAISES FEARS FOR FREE INFORMATION

A leaked cabinet paper by consitutional affairs secretary Lord Falconer has suggested a flat rate fee for all freedom of information requests to 'inhibit serial requesters' (Daily Mail, p10)

Local authorities are permitted to refuse FoI requests if the cost of carrying them out is more than£450. For Whitehall departments the limit is£600. Lord Falconer predicted a fifth of requests would be deterred.

Lib Dem deputy leader Vince Cable said the government was 'obsessed by secrecy and fears open debate based on freedom of information.'

STATE AID 'STAGNATES THE NORTH'

A report by economist Nick Bosanquet, of Imperial College London, has claimed that state spending is suffocating the north, according to the Daily Mail (p21).

He writes that economies depending on welfare benefits and tax-funded jobs are squeezing out business and causing workers to migrate south. Figures showing that London, the south east and the east pay half of all personal taxation in Britain appeared to support southern local authorities' complaints about uneven distribution of funding to the north.

STAND-OFF OVER BUSINESSMAN'S BLOOMS

The Daily Mail reports (p33) on a row in Bridgeport over a popular flower display which West Dorset DC officers attempted to remove because there was no planning permission for it.

The council said it had received complaints about the display, which spills onto council land. After a three-hour stand-off, the officers withdrew to reconsider their tactics, taking a mechanical digger with them.

'SAVE THE HUMBLE BUNGALOW', CAMPAIGNER URGES

A campaign group has called for the preservation of the traditional British bungalow, claiming they are being spoiled by extensions and attic conversions (Daily Telegraph, p7).

Brentwood-based Save Our Bungalows founder Peter Sanderson said: 'Many fear that residents with disabilities and those planning to retire in the Brentwood area may be unable to secure a suitable bungalow property in the future.'

Brentwood DC said all new developments had to have some one-bedroom homes, but that people could make some alterations without planning permission. The Housing Corporation said bungalows were unhelpful in achieving high housing density.

SOLAR PANELS OFF-THE-PEG IN HIGH STREET STORE

Electronics giant Currys will become the first big chain in Britain to sell solar panels for domestic users (Financial Times, p1). The company said it would cost a three-bedroom household£9,000 to buy and install the technology, followed by energy bills 50% lower than before. If successful, the experiment could see planning applications for solar panels increasing sharply.

BATH ROW COULD END IN COURT CLAIMS

Bath and North East Somerset Council is preparing claims against development partners over the overdue and over-budget Bath Thermal Spa project. Bath underwrote the scheme, whose costs have risen from£16m to£40m. (Financial Times, p2).

PEOPLE POWER SHOULD PRESSURE PRIVATE FIRMS TO IMPROVE, SAYS CBI

The Confederation of British Industry has praised schemes which allow local people to help improve services provided by private contractors (Financial Times, p4).

Its report said more effort should be put into publicising projects such as giving people disposable cameras to report areas that need cleaning, or contract payments being made dependent on the results of local satisfaction.

Read the report as a pdf file by clicking here.

THE THREE Rs BUT NO RIGHT AND WRONG

Changes to the national curriculum would mean teachers no longer have to instruct pupils aged 11 to 14 on the difference between right and wrong or on Britain's cultural heritage, the Daily Mail reports (p6).

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has slimmed the curriculum down to make it more flexible for secondary schools. 'Understanding Britain's spiritual, moral, social and cultural heritages' is replaced by helping pupils to 'understand different cultures and traditions and have a strong sense of their own place in the world'.

The QCA said the new wording was only a draft and there would be formal consultation next year.

EXAM RESULTS ONLINE COULD END THE RITE OF THE BROWN ENVELOPE

Britain's biggest examination board, Edexcel, is piloting online exam results this summer for A-level and GCSE students, the Guardian reports (p5).

The scheme means pupils will not need to turn up at school to learn their fate, or wait for the dreaded brown envelope that could spoil the summer holidays. Users would type in a unique ID and password to access their results. Last year the Scottish Qualifications Authority experimented with results by text message for students in remote areas.

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