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Volume 508: debated on Thursday 25 March 2010

The pre-Budget report 2009: “Securing the Recovery: Growth and Opportunity” stated that:

“CLG will undertake by Budget 2010 an end-to-end review of the call-in process, seeking to speed up decision-making”.

We have now completed this review and I am today publishing a report of the review and have placed copies in the Library of the House.

All parts of the process were examined to identify where there may be scope to work more efficiently, or to streamline the process. The review makes a number of recommendations and these are summarised below.

Better information:

for Ministers on the implications of calling a case in, and on the value added by call in;

for third parties on the call-in process and policy;

for Government Offices on what cases should be put to Ministers;

for Government Offices on dealing consistently and fairly with third-party requests to call-in; and

on call-in timescales and trends.

More effective working:

between statutory agencies and Government Offices;

between Planning Central Casework and the Planning Inspectorate

(i) to try and avoid issuing decisions subject to obtaining further commitments from the applicant (via “minded to” letters);

(ii) to speed up the process, particularly where there are issues with planning obligations in Planning Central Casework, to ensure that where possible, call-in cases are prioritised.

Better selection:

of the cases which should be called-in; and

of the call-in issues which the inquiry will focus on.

We will also explore the scope for improved use of electronic working at the inquiry stage, and for the Government Offices to work with local planning authorities at an earlier stage to help avoid call-ins. We will also consider how to make the most effective use of inquiry time—for example by providing more flexibility in the way evidence is examined.

Many of the recommendations in the review can be accepted and acted on immediately, with further work to begin on exploring the longer-term recommendations. Overall the review concluded that up to £2 million a year for applicants might be saved by calling in fewer cases, inquiries could be shorter in 40 per cent. of cases (with possible savings of up to £900,000 per year for all parties involved in the inquiry process), and there are further potential time and cost savings identified that might be secured in the future.

A further parliamentary statement will be issued in due course clarifying government policy on call-in, and updating the Caborn statement of 1999.