Christopher Pincher – 2020 Statement on the Planning Process

Below is the text of the statement made by Christopher Pincher, the Minister for Housing, in the House of Commons on 11 June 2020.

The Government are committed to maintaining public confidence in the probity of the planning process at all levels, including the Secretary of State’s role in deciding called-in planning applications and recovered appeals. Rightly, Parliament has, through the planning Acts, delegated to local planning authorities the powers to determine things at their level. However, Parliament has also created provisions whereby a small proportion of cases are determined by central Government.

The written ministerial statement of June 2008 sets out clear criteria for the use of the powers. For example, some decisions are recovered because of the quantum of housing they involve and thus their potential effect on the Government’s objectives for sustainable communities; others are recovered because of non-determination by the local authority. The involvement of Ministers in the planning system is a very long-established process that is clearly guided by both the published ministerial code and the guidance published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on planning propriety, which focuses on the duty on Ministers to behave fairly and to approach matters before them with an open mind.

The vast majority of planning decisions are determined at a local level by local planning authorities. However, as I have said, the planning system provides for decisions to be sent to Ministers for determination, including on the grounds that they involve developments of major importance. In fact, Ministers were involved in 26 planning decisions out of a total of 447,000 planning cases last year. The small number of cases that are referred to planning Ministers for determination are often among the most controversial in the planning system—for example, the 500 dwellings in the Oxford green belt that were recently allowed, and the 500 dwellings in the York green belt that were refused.

Given the nature of the cases before them, it is not uncommon for Ministers to determine against the planning inspector’s recommendation, as has happened in around 20% of cases in recent years. In conclusion, I stress that each planning decision is taken fairly and on its own merits.