Planning appeals over the University of Chester’s science and engineering campus at Thornton Science Park are continuing, with the University’s legal team accusing the Health & Safety Executive of “wholly unacceptable and unreasonable” behaviour.
The University opened its campus at the site, adjoining the Stanlow oil refinery to the north, in 2014 and it is currently home to around 500 students studying science and engineering.
The campus stretches over six buildings and includes nearly 130,000 sq ft of laboratories, lecture theatres, workshops, conference rooms, library space, and offices. The buildings formerly housed the Shell Research Centre before being acquired by the university.
However, a retrospective planning application was knocked back by Cheshire West & Chester Council in June last year, hinging on advice from the Health & Safety Executive; this move has put the future of the campus under threat.
The HSE argued there was a risk to students using the site due its proximity to the nearby oil refinery; under HSE guidelines, students are classed as members of the public, but the University had argued that for planning purposes, students should be classed as employees due to the safety procedures already in place on the site.
The University launched a planning appeal following the refusal, and the appeal process is currently ongoing.
In a strongly-worded letter, the University’s legal adviser Addleshaw Goddard has argued the HSE has taken a “wholly unacceptable and unreasonable position” over the planning appeal by advising it would not release its assessment of residual risk until the proof of evidence stage.
The legal team argued it was “undoubtedly the case” that a risk assessment had already been carried out by the HSE, and withholding the information would mean the University is “unfairly prejudiced in the appeal process” by not being able to examine the HSE’s case.
The letter added: “the appellant [the University]’s numerous attempts to obtain this information from the HSE has led to unnecessary delays in the process, and to the appellant incurring additional costs”.
The HSE counts as a specialist statutory consultee on the planning process, but it does not count as a decision-maker in the planning process, with the responsibility for the decision-making process falling to the council.
In their original reasons for refusing permission, CWAC planning officers said the HSE’s advice on the site “must be given very great weight and that the University’s argument about the validity of the advice, without clear, satisfactory reasoning, should be discounted”.
The wider 66-acre Thornton Science Park is also home to a number of businesses and start-ups, which are unaffected by the council’s planning decision.
Nexus Planning is advising the University over its appeal, which relates to the refusal of planning permission, and an enforcement notice over the use of the campus for education.
The appeal argues the economic benefits of the campus “outweigh the residual risks” and that the use of the site for education “does not expose an unacceptably sensitive population to an unacceptable risk”.
The enforcement notice from the council is also described as “excessive” by Nexus Planning.
A HSE spokesperson said: “This is a live planning inquiry and HSE is following the inquiry rules as laid down by the planning inspectorate therefore it is not appropriate for us to make any further comment at this time.”