Early indications suggest the government is prepared to throw its weight behind the town centre first policy outlined in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has ‘called in’ an application for a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Newport in response to concerns that it did not follow planning guidance published by the government in March.

In a letter to Telford and Wrekin council, which approved the application, Pickles said it was “one he ought to decide himself”.

He then ordered the council not to grant planning permission and send it to the Planning Inspectorate, which would prepare him a report on the case.

Pickles’ involvement has been welcomed by the pro-town centre first Association of Convenience Stores, which said it was an “important step”.

There were several cases coming up that would reveal the extent of the government’s commitment to the NPPF, it added.

“We had assurances from ministers that once the NPPF was policy, they would step in and enforce it where local councils approved projects that are contrary to national policy,” said ACS public affairs director Shane Brennan. “The question is whether they stick to that.”

However, events this week could render Pickles’ intervention redundant.

An alternative Newport supermarket site - proposed by developers Indigo and also likely to become a Sainsbury’s store - has been granted planning permission following an appeal.

The decision could see rival developer St Modwen, which is behind the original application called in by Pickles, abandon its plans - leaving the secretary of state with no case to review.