Land use planning and preventing accident hazards

United Kingdom

Where accidents involve flammable, oxidising, explosive or toxic substances, the consequences potentially rival those of natural disasters, as demonstrated by a number of major accidents, including on the UK sites of Flixborough (1974) and Buncefield (2005). Accordingly, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has re-launched its microsite on land use planning in order to provide support and advice to key stakeholders.

HSE acts as a statutory consultee on a number of matters:

  • Planning applications around major hazard sites and major accident hazard pipelines: where proposed development plans fall within HSE set consultation distances around major hazard sites and major accident hazard pipelines, the relevant planning authority must consult HSE who will provide advice on applications for planning permission within these distances. Planning authorities can obtain HSE’s advice directly through inputting information from planning applications into the online system PADHI+ (Planning Advice for Development near Hazardous Installations). HSE will advise on safety grounds whether or not planning permission should be granted.
  • Applications for hazardous substances consent: sites which hold certain hazardous substances at or above the defined limit must obtain hazardous substances consent from the Hazardous Substances Authority (HSA) – usually the local planning authority – who is required to consult HSE on applications for hazardous substances consent.
  • Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) (in England and for some in Wales): following the Buncefield incident, HSE reviewed its policies for providing land use planning advice around large-scale petrol storage sites: see HSE circular SPC/Tech/Gen/43. HSE’s advice is aimed at mitigating the effects of a major accident on the population around a major hazard site. Its approach seeks to balance the principle of stabilising and not increasing the numbers at risk with a pragmatic awareness of the limited land available for development in the UK.

On a European level, the European Seveso II Directive (96/82/EC) on the Major Accident Hazards of Certain Industrial Activities, which is currently implemented by the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH), is soon to be replaced by the forthcoming Seveso III Directive. This will to be implemented in the UK by 1 June 2015 within the new COMAH 2015 Regulations. It is set to improve the current regulatory framework by proposing 2 main changes related to land-use planning:

  • Firstly, the directive amends the list of hazardous substances it controls to reflect internationally recognised standards that are more integrated with industry practice; and
  • Secondly, it requires public consultation relating to decisions on where hazardous substances are to be located and on potential development around those locations. For further detail, please click here.