Campaigners in Margate, Kent, have welcomed a decision by the secretary of state to call in the final judgement on proposals for an edge-of-town Tesco superstore.

The decision means that communities secretary Eric Pickles will have the final say on the plans to build an 82,000sq ft superstore at the base of an 18-storey tower block on Margate seafront. It followed a four-day public inquiry into the plans earlier this month.

Margate is one of 27 ‘Portas Pilots’ selected by the government to receive £100,000 to renovate its town centre, in the wake of Mary Portas’ high street review.

Pickles had declined to call in the application in July 2011, but since then Margate has been awarded Portas Pilot status and Portas herself has urged the minister to intervene in the plans.

In a letter to the council and the developers Metropolitan Property Realizations, he said he had now called in the application due to the size of the proposal and its location in an “edge-of-town or out-of-centre location that is not in accordance with an up-to-date plan document”.

Local campaigners Friends of Arlington Margate argued that the plans would lead to traffic chaos, ruin the seafront, decimate public parking provision and harm independent businesses and shops.

“Our legal advisors say it is unprecedented for an application to be called in after it initially wasn’t,” said Louise Oldfield, spokeswoman for the campaign group.

She said the Tory-run council had a whip on the planning committee who forced through approval for the plans, “despite there being ample concerns on the table”. “We feel vindicated that we participated in this process,” she added. A petition organised by the group has attracted 575 signatures.

The government has come under fire for ignoring Portas’ recommendation that all out of town planning applications be called in for exceptional approval by the secretary of state.