Secretary of State's decision on planning application for re-development of the Ram Brewery site: HSE statement
The Secretary of State (SoS) for Communities and Local Government (CLG) announced on 30 June 2010 his decision not to grant planning permission for development at the Ram Brewery site in Wandsworth, London. HSE had advised Wandsworth Council against granting planning permission for the development of commercial and residential buildings, particularly two very tall towers, due to their close proximity to the Wandsworth Gasholder station. HSE appeared as a witness at the Inquiry and gave evidence about the major accident risks from the Wandsworth Gasholder station. This statement represents HSE's considered response to the SoS's and the Planning Inspector's conclusions.
HSE welcomed the decision by the SoS which supported HSE's advice in a number of important ways:
- the SoS was of the opinion that the benefits of the proposed development "do not outweigh ….the harm to public safety", a factor to which the Planning Inspector gave very significant weight;
- the SoS agreed with the Planning Inspector who was not satisfied that "future occupants would be adequately protected from the safety risk";
- HSE's concern about the evacuation constraints from the two tower blocks was supported by the SoS and the Planning Inspector and "added weight" to their opinion regarding the risks. Both acknowledged that the proposed towers would be "in the most sensitive part of the site in relation to the gasholder";
- both the SoS and the planning inspector showed concern that there was no "evidence that safety had been a significant consideration" and taken into account during the design of the proposed development;
- the SoS agreed with the Planning Inspector that HSE's consultation zones "have been reasonably set" and that HSE's advice against this development was "reasonable given the circumstances of this case";
- the planning inspector stated in his report that "the Government gives particular weight to large populations in vulnerable settings together with events resulting in many casualties";
- the planning inspector noted that much of the development would be "occupied on a residential basis, including during the winter when the gasholder would be in use more often";
- both the SoS and the Planning Inspector were satisfied that the HSE PADHI (Planning Advice for Developments near Hazardous Installations) binary output provides a "satisfactory level of advice for Land Use Planning (LUP) purposes" and the fact that on request HSE is required to explain the background to its PADHI advice.
- the SoS agreed with the Planning Inspectors' comments that HSE's decision to attend the planning inquiry was "evidence" that it did not consider its role to have been discharged;
- the SoS also agreed with the Planning Inspector that the objective to limit the consequences of a major accident as required by the Seveso II Directive had "not been sufficiently taken into account" and therefore the development would conflict with EU and national policy around hazardous installations. Failure to deliver on the Article 12 components of the Seveso II Directive could lead to infraction procedures.
The decision report and letter support the HSE methodology in a number of key areas:
- The SoS agreed with the Planning Inspector and supported HSE's use of the Protection Concept (also the preferred option at The Oval Planning Inquiry where HSE's technical advice was upheld) rather than the QRA approach because they considered it was "preferable due to the limited nature of the evidence available to use in the QRA".
- Both the SoS and the Planning Inspector favoured "HSE's calculations for the Scaled Risk Integral" ( SRI) noting that the SRI for Tower 1 in itself would exceed by a factor of 18 "the call-in request threshold of exceptional safety concern".
HSE's land use planning policy is in line with Article 12 of the Seveso II Directive which provides for the maintenance of appropriate distances between major hazard sites and the public. A number of other cases support HSE's policy in this area including a High Court judgment (Unicoin (Dartford) Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Dartford Council  and a recent appeal decision, which found in favour of Wiltshire Council's decision not to grant planning permission based in part on HSE's advice – September 2010. Based on its policies and proven methodology HSE will continue to provide land use planning advice on planning applications around major hazard sites.
On 3 December 2008, Wandsworth Council in London informed HSE that it was minded to go against HSE advice and grant planning permission for the redevelopment of four sites in the vicinity of the Wandsworth Gasholder Station, which is a major hazard installation and a lower tier COMAH site (guidance on the COMAH regulations)
Three of the sites are known collectively as the Ram Brewery site and the proposed development would have included two very tall (32 and 42 storey) residential tower blocks at the end of the redevelopment site nearest to Wandsworth Gasholder Station. The total number of residential units for the whole site (a mix of 1-bedroom to 4-bedroom flats) would have been 829.
HSE had advised against the development because it would put more people at potential risk, should a major accident occur at the gasholder station. 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 Wandsworth Gasholder Station and their consequences, which are consistent with those of the gasholder operator.
The Council decided to grant planning permission against HSE's advice. The Government Office for London (GOL) called in the application because it was not in line with a number of national and regional planning guidelines. HSE gave evidence at the Inquiry which started on 3rd November 2009 and concluded on 2nd December 2009.