As Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, I have the power to “call in” planning applications, rather than them being left to local planning authorities to determine.
Parliament has entrusted local planning authorities with the responsibility for day-to-day planning decisions in their areas and they should, in general, be free to carry out their duties responsibly, with the minimum of interference and delay. For this reason, successive Governments have been very selective about calling in planning applications. While the call-in power under section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 gives me a wide discretion, it is clear that, in practice, call-in is the exception rather than the rule. Over the past 10 years, called-in planning applications have averaged just 21 per year from the annual average of 480,000 applications received by local councils—that is around one in every 23,000.
On 12 December 2001, the then Government announced that they would, from that date, give reasons for decisions not to call in planning applications. Following a review of the call-in process in 2010, a subsequent statement made on 26 October 2012 reconfirmed that the Secretary of State would continue to be very selective about calling in planning applications and would only consider the use of his call-in power if planning issues of more than local importance are involved. However, the statement of 12 December 2001 about giving reasons for not calling in planning applications was not formally withdrawn.
Having regard to the Court of Appeal judgment in the case of Save Britain’s Heritage v. the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, I have concluded that I need to address directly whether this Government should be bound by a commitment given by a previous Government. This Government fully support the need to be transparent and open in their decision making, and acknowledge the rationale behind the 2001 statement, but a decision on whether to call in a planning application, or not to do so, is inherently about process and not the merits of the application. I am concerned that to give reasons in either eventuality risks blurring this distinction and, as there is no duty in this respect, I will call in those applications where I conclude that such a decision needs to be taken by me and I will not call in applications where I conclude that the decision is best left with the local planning authority.
Therefore, so that my position is clear, I am announcing today that the policy set out in the statement of 12 December 2001 is hereby withdrawn and that, from today, I will not give reasons for calling in or declining to call in planning applications. The call-in policy set out in the statement of 26 October 2012 remains in place.