PEMBROKESHIRE County Council has been accused of ‘going backwards’ after it stopped publishing certain planning documents online for fear of potential defamation claims.

Since January 30th, third party representations on planning applications are no longer posted online to avoid the authority publishing “defamatory material”.

But at Monday’s corporate governance committee, Councillor Paul Miller said: “There must be a better way made available to members, especially to members of the planning committee. It is a backward step to have to come in and look at a hard copy.

“If anything, my question would be why have we got a hard copy file in the first place? We should be more advanced than that.”

Director of development Steven Jones said that in the vast majority of instances, hard copy files were made available on request.

He added that IT was unable to come up with a system that allowed members to access information online without ‘publishing’ the material.

Mr Jones said: “We tried to explore more manageable ways of conveying that information, and thus far we have drawn a blank.”

Cllr Jamie Adams said that the policy allowed more face-to-face interaction between constituents and their local members.

He said: “I would like to think members of the public who find it difficult to viewthe documents themselves would engage their local member to ascertain information contained within the file.”

He added that many views were subjective and irrelevant in planning terms, and publishing them would give rise to further inaccurate or irrelevant submissions.

But Cllr Mike Stoddart said that the county council had no right to act like a ‘filter’ for people’s views.

He said: “The public has a right to pass on any concerns that they have.”

He added that such submissions would have qualified privilege under the Defamation Act.