I am pleased to bring you some good news before the Easter weekend in the form of the Secretary of State deciding not to call in the planning application for the YTL Arena Bristol. The planning application for the Arena was approved last month by Bristol City Council’s planning committee subject to completion of a s106 agreement and a referral to the Secretary of State under s.5(1) of the Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009 as it comprises the development of more than 5,000sqm of retail, leisure and office use on land which occupies an out-of-centre location. Alongside this, South Gloucestershire Council’s planning committee had approved three applications for associated infrastructure. Secretary of State Robert Jenkins confirmed on Tuesday this week that he had considered the call in policy set out in the written ministerial statement of Nick Boles dated 26 October 2012 and was content for the decisions to be made at local level.

By way of a reminder, s.77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) empowers the Secretary of State to call in applications for his (or her) own determination and Article 31 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) Order 2015 allows ministers to suspend local authority powers to determine a planning application. The Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009 sets out the types of applications which will be referred for call in and applications are usually called in if they raise planning issues with more than local significance. The 2012 ministerial statement advises that the powers should only be used selectively.

It is also important to note that the 2009 Direction only applies to England and that a new 2020 Direction was brought into force in Wales in January this year which requires all applications for major housing sites (defined as proposed residential development of 10 or more residential units, including flats, or residential development on 0.5 hectares or more of land) which are not in accordance with one or more provisions of the development plan in force which the local authority do not propose to refuse, to be called in. This is on the basis that the Welsh Government was concerned that speculative, unsustainable residential developments have been proposed outside of adopted development plans and the direction provides an opportunity to consider whether appropriate scrutiny has been given to such applications. It will be interesting to see if a similar provision extends to England in due course – but for now, we are delighted to hear that the referral to the Secretary of State in respect of the YTL Arena Bristol has not delayed its approval.