Secretary of State's decision on planning application at the Oval Cricket Ground: HSE statement
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 SoS agreed with the Planning Inspector that HSE's advice against the planning application was justified, on a 'cautious best estimate' basis
- he also agreed that such a development as the one proposed, if located where no development currently exists, should not be allowed
- the Planning Inspector endorsed HSE's view that this particular case merited review at a planning inquiry in order that the challenge to HSE's advice should be given the most careful consideration
- HSE's approach is supported by the Planning Inspector and the SoS in that they say that neither removal of the present developments nor of the gasholder would be an appropriate way to deal with the risk of an accident at the gasholder site.
- The Inspector rejected the applicant's case that features of the design of the proposed buildings would shield spectators from harm.
- The Inspector agreed that there is no statutory framework for the acceptability of risk.
The decision reports and letter support the HSE methodology in a number of key areas:
- The Planning Inspector noted that HSE's methodology takes account of previous relevant accidents
- he stated that HSE's representations concerning the risk at the gasholder site 'are essentially upheld', ie that our methodology is sound.
- He confirmed that where challenge to HSE's evidence is not well supported by technical evidence or proven superior expertise, the HSE should continue to be accorded due weight.
- There is robust evidence that gas holder failures by lift decouplement, crown failure and seal fire cannot be ruled out, with potential for ignition, and that such occurrences have been recorded as recently as 1979 after more modern safety features had been introduced
- There is no evidence that improvements to Gasholders and their safety regime have led to any reduction in the accident rate, despite a large reduction in the number of Gasholders overall and given that the basic engineering of Gasholders has remained the same for a large number of years
- The ignition probability (50%) predicted by the HSE is a reasonable CBE compared with the value assumed in the Applicants' Quantified Risk Assessment (QRA)
- On a CBE it is necessary to model a fireball as a credible 'Worst Case Major Accident' and that the model HSE used is reasonable on balance
- There is no reliable evidence to question the HSE calculation of event frequency of the 50% fireball and that the inherent uncertainty means that any QRA prediction "must be viewed with extreme caution, if not suspicion". In addition there is no evidence of other work as rigorous as that of HSE to disprove its results of 10 chances per million/year of the Worst Case Major Accident (and in saying this the Inspector noted that the gasholder operator's COMAH safety report included a 16cpm frequency).
- The Inspector's comment on Quantified Risk Assessment (QRA) supports HSE's view that it is not appropriate for all risk assessments
- The fact that a water seal failure fire could occur (and that the chances are 100cpm) adds weight to the safety case
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, ie 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.