Eric Pickles' communities and local government department is considering calling in Arla's application to build a £150m dairy in Aylesbury, taking away the local council's ability to ­decide the dairy's fate.

The revelation came ahead of a meeting on Friday (23 September) ­during which the local council was expected to ­approve Arla's plans.

Earlier this summer, a ­local Conservative MP urged Pickles to step in ­because his constituents feared Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) might not decide on Arla's planning application in a fair ­manner.

In a last-minute twist, the same MP, David Lidington, has decided he does not want central government involvement after all, because this would conflict with the ­coalition government's ­explicit localism agenda.

Despite Lidington's plea, a spokesman for Pickles' department said central government intervention remained a possibility. He added a decision on whether to call in Arla's application to the department would be made after AVDC had given its verdict on the dairy on Friday.

In his most recent letter to Pickles, which was sent in early September, Lidington said local businesses were concerned central government interference might delay the planning process, jeopardise Arla's development timetable and potentially result in the company's seeking an alternative location. This could harm Aylesbury's ­future economic prospects, he wrote.

Arla, too, said the local council should make the decision on its planning ­application. "AVDC is following a standard process, therefore we agree that the local authority is well-placed to make this decision," a spokeswoman said.

Should the council decide against Arla's plans, the company can raise the issue with the secretary of state, via an appeal to a planning inspector.

As The Grocer went to press, Arla's dairy was expected to be approved by AVDC's strategic development control committee.