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Times article: "Gasholders at the Oval are declared a risk - 127 years on"

Geoffrey Podger, HSE's Chief Executive, responds

Sir

Your report on proposed redevelopment at the Oval cricket ground (30 October) misrepresents the role of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and implies we have suddenly declared the adjacent gasholders a risk. Planning authorities are required to consult HSE for advice on the suitability of applications near major hazard sites, including gasholders, to ensure protection of the public is taken into account during the planning process. HSE has provided such advice for some 30 years. Our role is purely advisory: it is for the planning authority to take into account other economic or social factors that should be considered.

HSE has advised Lambeth Council against granting planning permission for the proposed development at the Oval. There are, on average, three or four large gas escapes every year from gasholders, which could lead to a major incident if the gas found an ignition source. The main reason such an incident has not occurred for 70 years (though there have been fires) is because the gas has dispersed safely into the large, clear areas surrounding the holders. Development close to such sites (particularly of an intensive, multi-storey, nature) potentially increases both the number of ignition sources and of those people who could subsequently be affected by any incident. Recent incidents at other major hazard sites have shown that, although such events are rare, they should not be ignored when considering what developments to allow.

You state that "there were no objections" to the building of a stand in 2005 In fact HSE did not offer any advice on that application because we were not consulted. You also refer to the procedures involved prior to submitting the planning proposal. I understand that, as part of these, Lambeth Council encouraged the developers to contact HSE at an early stage, but we received nothing before the formal consultation from the Council.

I hope this helps to clarify HSE's position.

Geoffrey Podger,
Chief Executive,
Health and Safety Executive,

Updated 2013-01-23