The Secretary of State (SoS) for Communities and Local Government (CLG) announced on 9 June his decision to grant planning permission for the development at the Oval Cricket Ground which HSE had requested be called in for a planning inquiry because of safety concerns. This statement represents HSE's considered response to the SoS's and the Planning Inspector's conclusions.
Having carefully considered the Secretary of State's decision and the Inspector's recommendation, HSE does not consider that the outcome of this particular case requires a reassessment of its general land use planning methodology or advice policy.
HSE notes the SoS's decision which, although it permitted the application, supported HSE's advice in a number of important ways:
The decision reports and letter support the HSE methodology in a number of key areas:
The Inspector commented that the Applicants' experts were unable to offer an alternative to HSE's assessments. It was also noted that the same experts were optimistic in respect of their assessment of risk.
The Planning Inspector's and SoS's conclusion make it clear that the reasons for permitting the development lie in the unique circumstances of this particular site, i.e. certain factors that lessen the risk and provide reassurance. These factors were the seasonal use of the cricket ground and the fact that the gasholders tended to be in the 'down' position in the summer.
The decision also balanced the benefits of the development to the sport of cricket and economic benefits for the area against the residual risk. HSE accepts, as it has always done, that this is a proper judgment to be made by the SoS, whilst noting that the circumstances in other cases are likely to be different.
HSE will continue to base its advice on the principles originally established by the Advisory Committee on Major Hazards which emphasised that existing development closer to a major hazard site than a planning proposal should not be allowed to set precedents.
HSE's land use planning policy is in line with Article 12 of the Seveso Directive which provides for the maintenance of appropriate distances between major hazard sites and the public. A number of cases support HSE's policy in this area including a recent High Court judgment (Unicoin (Dartford) Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Dartford Council  All ER D 239 (Nov)).
Based on its policies and proven methodology HSE will continue to provide land use planning advice on planning applications around major hazard sites. It is examining the Oval judgment and considering whether, in the light of the decision, there are ways in which its advice can be more clearly explained. However it does not consider that the outcome of this particular case implies a need for a reassessment of its land use planning advice either in general or specifically concerning gasholders.
In January 2008 HSE advised against a planning application received by Lambeth Council to redevelop part of the pavilion end of the Oval Cricket ground, Kennington, London. The proposal was to replace the Surrey Tavern and Lock, Laker and Peter May stands and some other minor buildings with a new plaza, a six-storey stand incorporating 1,830 additional spectator seats and other facilities, including a hotel. The development would be next to a major hazards site, the Kennington gasholder station, a top-tier COMAH site.
HSE's advice against was based on the significant increase that the development represents in the numbers of people who would be placed in the inner and middle of HSE's three zones within the consultation distance around the gasholders. The advice, and the evidence that was given to the Inquiry, was based on HSE's assessment of the risks from foreseeable incidents at the gasholders and their consequences.
The Council decided to grant planning permission against HSE's advice and after due consideration HSE successfully requested that the application be called in for a planning inquiry. The Inquiry started on 14th October and concluded on 2nd December 2008.