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Second council fortnightly freesheet put to the sword after High Court judgment

A second council has been forced to stop printing its own freesheet more than four times a year after losing an appeal against a High Court judgment.

Waltham Forest Council had joined Hackney Council in requesting a judicial review of a Government directive ordering them to stop publishing in breach of the Local Authority Publicity 2011 code.

Judge Mrs Justice Andrews dismissed the claim in her judgment in June, with the councils denied a request to appeal the decision last week.

Waltham Forest Council said in a statement that it had only printed Waltham Forest News every fortnight because it was legally obliged to publish statutory notices in a newspaper which prints more than once a month.

It delivered 100,000 copies of the freesheet to homes and businesses across the borough 22 times a year.

Statutory notices are official notices informing residents about planning, traffic and other matters that might affect them.

Waltham Forest is served by the Waltham Forest Guardian, which merged with other Newsquest titles to form the East London and West Essex Guardian in September last year, and the Waltham Forest Echo, a free independent title which has published monthly since 2014.

The Government has been advising councils against publishing a newspaper or newsletter more than once a month since 2011, but gained new powers in April last year to force them to stop.

Waltham Forest Council said: “We are disappointed that council taxpayers’ money will now have to be spent on publishing public notices in an alternative publication.

“We only produce WFN because the government, by law, insist that councils pay to publish statutory notices in a printed newspaper.

“These rules mean local authorities currently pay an estimated £68m in council taxpayers’ money to comply with these rules.

“WFN was our way of complying that also helps us communicate with all our residents, particularly those who are hardest to reach or who don’t have regular internet access.”

It added: “We will now be looking at all options to how best to communicate with our residents so that they don’t lose out because of this ruling.”

In a letter to the Department for Communities and Local Government, dated October 2014, Waltham Forest Council said it “accepts that publishing WFN 23 times per year creates a cost to the council that exceeds the cost of statutory notices”.

It said the cost, including design, printing, distribution and staffing for 23 editions of WFN in 2013/14 was £417,600.

It claimed it had been “very careful to avoid unfairly competing with the Waltham Forest Guardian” by not taking classified or property ads and “intentionally” setting its ad rate card higher than the Guardian “for the express purpose of avoiding competition”.

A full page ad in WFN cost up to £1,800 and a four-page wrap cost £7,000, according to a media pack published by the council.

The council also claimed ad revenue from WFN broadly covered the production costs.

WFN published its final edition on 10 June this year.

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