Introduction

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued a circular setting out its revised procedure relating to planning advice. This applies to planning advice in respect of new developments to be located near large scale petrol storage sites.

Background

When a local planning authority (LPA) receives a planning application for a development within a certain distance from a site that holds a hazardous substance, it must consult the HSE for advice on such an application before that application can be considered. That advice must be taken into consideration by the LPA when reaching its decision on whether or not the application should be approved. However the LPA is entitled to rule contrary to the advice of the HSE.

The explosion and subsequent fire at the Buncefield oil storage depot in December 2005 brought into focus the problems and potential risks that are associated with developments that occur around similar hazardous sites.

The procedure in place to minimise and manage the risk of an incident from hazardous sites is governed by:

  • The Control of Major Accidents Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH) subsequently amended in June 2005. COMAH identifies levels of dangerous substances that are governed by the Regulations. It mainly impacts on the chemical industry, but also applies to some storage sites.
  • The Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 1992 stipulate the limit for storage of hazardous substances on a site and the procedure for controlling development in the surrounding area. A site with hazardous substances above a prescribed limit requires consent from the Hazardous Substances Authority (HSA) which is legally obliged to consult with the HSE. When the HSA receives a planning application for a development within a certain distance from a site that holds a hazardous substance above the defined limits, it must provide the HSE with the distance from the hazard. There are various levels of risk depending on proximity and the HSE gives advice based on an assessment of the level of risk to individuals (including businesses).

The explosion and subsequent fire at Buncefield oil storage depot led to the creation of the Buncefield Major Incidents Investigation Board. This investigated the accident and subsequently called on the HSE to review the advice it gives to LPAs in relation to development on and around large-scale petrol storage sites.

Consultations

The HSE issued consultation papers on three issues:

  • proposed changes to consultation distances,
  • the areas around a petrol storage site where the HSE must be consulted on planning applications to develop inside that zone, and
  • qadvice given in relation to applications within consultation distances of large-scale petrol storage sites.

This first consultation sought views on such points as:

  • Whether or not the principles used by the HSE to advise HSAs on land use planning around large-scale petrol storage sites remained sound or were in need of review.
  • Whether the size of the consultation zone on which the HSE bases its advice to the HSA should be extended.

It was the view of many in the property industry that this consultation was quite narrow in its scope. It was restricted to development taking place in the vicinity of large-scale petrol storage sites rather than all types of major hazardous sites. However it was acknowledged that there are over 50 such sites in the UK and the outcome of the HSE consultation would be of interest to developers and LPAs.

The results of the consultation were published in late 2007 and there was a large response in favour of increasing the size of the consultation distances used by the HSE to advise the HSA on development around large-scale petrol storage sites. There was also a strong opinion that the HSE give more restrictive advice on the types of development that should be built in the area immediately surrounding such sites.

The results of the consultation may also have an affect on the regulations that govern other major hazardous sites at some point in the future.

In April 2007 the HSE issued a separate consultation on proposals for revised policies to address societal risk around onshore non-nuclear major hazardous installations. This consultation looked at whether the concept of societal risk should be brought into the land use planning assessment process not only for large-scale petrol storage sites but also for all major hazardous sites.

The response to this consultation was published in January 2008. It showed major support for including the concept of societal risk into land use planning policies for all major hazardous sites. This involves consideration of whether a group of individuals may experience harm in the event of an incident.

Concerns have been expressed in these consultations that increasing the consultation zone may have an impact on house prices and regeneration in surrounding communities. However the HSE issued a revised procedure for providing land use planning advice around large-scale petrol storage sites on 25 July this year.

Revised procedures

The revised procedures are designed to strengthen development control in areas close to hazardous sites.

The new procedures categorise developments into one of four levels according to geographical location in relation to the site, and the number of people who will regularly occupy the development. It also creates a new development proximity zone for land adjacent to the site in respect of which the HSE will advise against any development from taking place in this area unless it is not usually occupied, for example parking and storage facilities.

Conclusion

Further changes to HSE procedures, especially in the region of land use development around major hazardous sites, are expected to be made over the coming years. Developers will be monitoring changes with interest in relation to potential impact on property prices and development potential in such surrounding areas. 

For more detailed information click on the links below.

Consultation February 2007 – Proposals for revised policies for HSE advice on development control around large-scale petrol storage sites.

Consultation results December 2007 – Proposals for revised policies for HSE advice on development control around large-scale petrol storage sites.

Consultation April 2007 – Proposals for revised policies to address societal risk around onshore non-nuclear major hazardous installations

Consultation results January 2008 – Societal risk consultation findings