Wolverhampton City Council has been ordered to rethink planning permission for a block of student flats to be sited close to a facility storing liquid petroleum gas (LPG), following an appeal by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Planning permission was sought by the developer, Victoria Hall Ltd, to build four blocks of flats intended for use by students attending Wolverhampton University. The Council granted permission despite the intended site’s proximity to the gas storage facility, and without informing the HSE.
The HSE was not made aware of the decision to grant planning permission until work had commenced on three of the four blocks. The Executive later failed in its attempt to secure an order to the Council to revoke planning permission for the fourth, although the judge did declare that the Council had failed in its statutory duty to inform the HSE of its decision and to consult with the HSE prior to final approval of the plans.
The development was considered advantageous to the local economy, as it would aid regeneration and stimulate further investment in the area. And although evidence presented at the original High Court hearing in 2009 stated that “if there were a major accident at the LPG facility, the effects could be catastrophic,” this was countered by a risk assessment that showed there to be only a slight risk of such an accident occurring. Evidence suggested 10 chances per million per year of a fireball from an explosion at the plant causing the nearest blocks to catch fire.
Although the High Court did not make an order revoking the permission, it did declare that the Council had failed in its statutory duties to notify the HSE that it was intending to grant planning permission and to consult further with the HSE.
At appeal, it was conceded by the HSE that there was no point revoking planning permission for the three blocks that had already been constructed but argued that work on the fourth block, which was closest to the gas site and therefore most at risk, should not be commenced.
The Court of Appeal agreed by majority, stating that the Council had acted unlawfully in approving the plans without due reference to the HSE. The Court ordered the Council to consider making a revocation order to its planning permission for the fourth block. It follows that compensation will be payable to the developer for losses incurred.