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Buncefield Investigation Board calls for reforms to land use planning system around major hazard sites

Buncefield Investigation Board calls for reforms to land use planning system around major hazard sites

NEWS DISTRIBUTION SERVICE News Release (Buncefield) issued by The Government News Network on 15 July 2008

Issued by the News Distribution Service on behalf of the Buncefield Independent Major Incident Investigation

Today, the Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board (MIIB) has released recommendations on land use planning around major hazard sites (non-nuclear), with a report that calls for the system to be updated in order to get the balance right between the need for strategic facilities such as large scale oil storage sites and the need for off-site social and economic development.

Lord Tony Newton, Independent Chair of the Buncefield Investigation Board said: "We believe there are important benefits to be secured. A more cohesive system, greater collaboration between interested parties and more refined risk assessment tools can enable industry to provide the products we need while maintaining the levels of safety that everyone expects and avoiding the unnecessary blighting of development opportunities."

The MIIB is asking for a wide-ranging review of the system for land-use planning around major hazard sites in Britain. The review is to look into the granting of consents to the site operators, as well as the planning consents for off-site developments. Critically, the MIIB is asking for the total population at risk to be considered for each new application; currently, the planning system does not consider the cumulative effect of developments on the so-called societal risk.

The MIIB endorses the fundamental principle that the local planning authority should be responsible for planning decisions but observes that the roles of HSE, the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the site operators in the planning system should be more aligned with the regulatory system for ensuring safety and environmental protection at major hazard sites.

The preferred system is one where the planning authority takes decisions that are informed by expert technical submissions on risks and control measures, including from the emergency responders, with HSE being responsible for the standards of technical submissions, and for the standards of the controls to be achieved by the planning decision process.

The MIIB believes that the improvements called for in its previous reports, for example in reducing the risks of major incidents through better design and operation of fuel storage sites should be accounted for in the new system. Currently, the planning zones around flammable storage sites are not responsive to changes in risk levels although they are at other types of major hazard sites, such as chlorine manufacturing plants. The MIIB is calling for the system in Britain to be more consistent in the use of quantified risk assessment to inform planning decisions.

Taf Powell, the Buncefield Investigation Manager said: "Buncefield represents a watershed for the planning system at major hazard sites in Britain as we identified in our initial report in July 2006. Land-use planning and societal risk have been particularly challenging and have taken some time to consider fully.

"The planning system needs overhauling to avoid unnecessary blight on off-site development whilst giving good assurance of safety and environmental protection relating to the site.

"The system should in future consider the total population at risk - societal risk - at each new development application. We should not continue to allow surrounding populations to increase without considering the consequences.

"Planning decisions should take account of our other recommendations for controlling the risks arising from major hazard sites. Understanding the risks involved is an important step in reaching decisions and we have made a particular effort in our report to cast some light on the aspects of risk assessment and societal risk.

"What we are proposing is a tool for flexible transparent decision making which we believe will assist in achieving more consistent outcomes around major hazard sites."

Notes to Editors

1. In this report, the Buncefield Investigation Board gives their views on how the planning system around major hazard sites could be improved, in the aftermath of the Buncefield explosions and fires of 11 December 2005. This work relates to item 5 in the Investigation's terms of reference, where there is requirement for the Board to make recommendations for future action to ensure the effective management and regulation of major incident risk at COMAH sites. This should include consideration of off-site as well as on-site risks and consider prevention of incidents, preparations for response to incidents and mitigation of their effects. This stems from the Board's Initial Report, published on 13 July 2006, which identified four principal workstreams that would form the basis of their continuing work and developing recommendations. Those workstreams are Design and Operations (also relating to COMAH); Emergency Preparedness for and in Response to Incidents (also relating to COMAH); Advice to Planning Authorities (this report); and Examination of the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) and the Environment Agency's roles in regulating the activities on the Buncefield site.

2. The HSE and the Environment Agency as the joint Competent Authority (CA), are the regulatory agencies responsible for enforcing the COMAH (Control of Major Accident Hazards) Regulations. The CA assesses the adequacy of the safety reports submitted and carries out inspections and audits to verify their content and implementation.

3. The local planning authorities for the Buncefield depot are Dacorum Borough Council and St. Albans District Council.

4. The Independent Investigations call for the COMAH and land use planning systems to be increasingly integrated, because they believe increased burdens on site operators will be minimised. The costs of risk reduction measures also need to be considered in relation to the commercial beneficiaries of the measures. The Board also call for the revised planning system to be systematically and clearly explained to the general public.

5. The Board have identified a number of primarily technical issues relating to the assessments that inform land use planning decisions around major hazard sites. These need to be addressed in parallel with the wide-ranging review if changes to the system are to be delivered within 5 years. The Board explain that the simplified, generic approach to risk assessment currently used around flammable storage sites needs to be replaced by a site specific assessment of risks, using QRA methods, leading to a planning system that is more responsive to the levels of risk posed by each particular site.

6. This is a necessary response to the improvements in risk controls. Specific examples are in moving away from expressing harm in terms of 'dangerous dose or worse' to a risk of fatality, in aligning the risk assessment in the COMAH safety report system with land use planning, and in setting priorities on the management of sites to ensure continuing integrity of the control measures incorporated in the planning decisions. The Board also address some of the anomalies attaching to the hazardous substances consents system, eg on dormant sites.

7. Moving to a QRA approach is also necessary for societal risk to be taken into account in a consistent way in Britain i.e. to ensure that broadly similar levels of risk receive broadly similar responses in the planning system.

8. The Board call on the key stakeholders - some of whom have had little involvement to date - to demystify the concept of societal risk and to envisage a future system where they support the planning authority in coming to transparent decisions on what level of societal risk can be accepted in a planning application. This should be subject to guidance on tolerability limits developed by HSE and agreed nationally. We also call for the planning authorities to be suitably resourced to develop the expertise and procedures necessary for their role.

9. The Board commissioned a report from the engineering consultancy DNV to describe what a risk based system incorporating societal risk might look like at a flammable storage site. The results of this work confirmed that a fully risk based land use planning system around such sites is feasible, and is used elsewhere in Europe.

10. The Board concludes their report by addressing retrospective applications of this method since it is inevitable there will be some places where the societal risk will be of concern due to developments, which have already taken place. These locations will need to be managed through a specific and proportionate response.

11. If you have any questions for the Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board, please Tel: 020 7717 6909 or email us at, Opening times: Monday to Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm.

To visit the Buncefield Major Investigation website, go to

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