The Secretary of State has powers to "call-in" a planning application and "recover" a planning appeal, to determine it himself. This note explains these powers further.Jump to full report >>
“Calling-in” of a planning application refers to the power of the Secretary of State to take the decision making power on a particular planning application out of the hands of the local planning authority for his own determination. This can be done at any time during the planning application process, up to the point at which the local planning authority actually makes the decision.
If a planning application is called-in, there will be a public inquiry chaired by a planning inspector, or lawyer, who will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can choose to reject these recommendations if he wishes and will genuinely take the final decision.
The power to call-in planning applications is very general and the Secretary of State can call-in an application for any reason. In practice, very few applications are called-in every year. They normally relate to planning applications which raise issues of national significance.
Anyone can ask for a planning application to be called-in. The request does not have to come from an MP. An MP can make representations to have an application called-in, but they have to be open ones. Ministers and the Secretary of State in taking the decision must follow DCLG Guidance on Planning Propriety Issues.
In certain circumstances, local planning authorities must notify the Secretary of State of particular types of planning application. Applicants should give clear reasons why they think that the application should be called-in, including why it is of more than local importance. For further information see the Planning Inspectorate Procedural Guide: Called-in planning applications – England.
The Secretary of State also has a similar power to “recover” a planning appeal which has been submitted to the planning inspectorate. A “recovered inquiry” is basically a planning appeal (against a local authority’s decision) which the Secretary of State can decide to determine himself, rather than allowing a planning inspector to take the final decision, as is the normal process.
The former Conservative Government renewed the recovery criterion in relation to neighbourhood plan areas and also expanded it to include recovery of appeals in relation to exploring and developing shale gas. In a 31 August 2015 letter to Chief Planning Officers in England, the Government set out how the Planning Inspectorate would monitor appeals involving unauthorised development in the green belt. It also said that the Secretary of State would recover a “proportion of relevant appeals in the green belt.
The 2010-15 coalition Government had a policy to recover appeals relating to traveller sites in the green belt. Following a high court challenge in the case of Moore and Coates v SSCLG  EWHC 44 (Admin) certain aspects of this policy were found to be contrary to provisions in the Equality Act 2010 and the European Convention of Human Rights. The then Government decided to “de-recover” a number of these outstanding appeals.
This note sets out all these issues in more detail. It applies to England only. For more information about the planning system in the other UK countries, see briefing paper, Comparison of the planning systems in the four UK countries: 2016 update.
Commons Briefing papers SN00930
Author: Louise Smith