The Scottish Ministers can call-in any planning application at any time. Infamously, they called-in the planning application for Donald Trump’s Menie golf course project after Aberdeenshire Council had decided to refuse permission but before the Council had issued their decision.

Planning authorities, and Local Review Bodies, are required to notify Ministers of an intention to grant permission for certain types of development. The notification gives the Ministers an opportunity to decide whether to exercise their call-in power, but not every notified application is called-in.

Far fewer applications are called-in, following the publication of Circular 3/2009, which indicates that applications will be called-in where there are issues of national importance – eg. a Government agency has expressed strong concerns, or there are impacts beyond the area of the planning authority. A substantial number of objections is not a reason in itself for an application to be called-in, although called-in applications are often controversial.

Generally, only applications which are going to be granted permission are called-in, so call-in is a safeguard against inappropriate development being permitted, adding a further layer of scrutiny.

Although planning appeals are delegated to Reporters for decision, the Ministers can reverse that delegation (“recover jurisdiction”). This is another form of call-in, again giving Ministers the final say in the decision-making. It is less easy to see why Ministers should feel the need to intervene, to prevent an experienced planning professional from making the decision.

Reasons have to be given for the call-in, but typically these are brief, broad, and not very informative. In part, this is because the Ministers need to be careful not to be seen to be prejudging the case – “potential” is often mentioned.

The DPEA Annual Review 2015-16 lists recent recalled appeals and called-in applications. From further investigation:

  • Call-in of applications is often triggered by objection from a Government agency or neighbouring council, but not always.
  • Appeals are called-in for a variety of reasons, including national policy; historic environment; and economic/ tourism benefit.
  • Call-in does change outcomes:
    • Mossend International Rail Freight Park – the Ministers granted permission, contrary to the Reporter’s recommendation, but that decision has been quashed by the Court of Session – lack of proper and adequate reasons.
    • Hyndford Quarry – called-in because of potential impact on a World Heritage Site, although there was no objection by Historic Scotland. Although the Reporters recommended that permission be granted, the Ministers granted permission for the south extension only.
    • Cammo – 1 of 8 appeals called-in, because “the delivery of appropriate housing developments … [is] an issue of national significance”. Permission was refused for the Cammo site, contrary to Reporter’s recommendation.

Watch this space – call-ins awaiting decision include: 10 appeals for 100+ houses; Royal High School, Edinburgh; film studio, Straiton; tennis and golf centre, Park of Keir; housing, Kelbourne Street, Glasgow.