Thornton Science Park

University loses battle over Thornton Science Park buildings

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

The University of Chester has been given one year to close down six buildings at Thornton Science Park in Ince, after a failed appeal against a decision by Cheshire West & Chester Council and the Health & Safety Executive.

The University opened its campus at the site, adjoining the Stanlow oil refinery to the north, in 2014 and it is 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 for its Faculty of Science & Engineering. The buildings formerly housed the Shell Research Centre before being acquired by the university.

The university believed it did not need to apply for a change in the use of the buildings, as it argued students were the same as employees.

When a retrospective planning application was submitted in 2018, it was knocked back by Cheshire West & Chester Council, based on advice from the Health & Safety Executive.

The HSE argued there was a risk to students using the site due to its proximity to the nearby oil refinery, should an accident such as a fire occur. Meanwhile under HSE guidelines, students are classed as members of the public, not staff.

The university launched a planning appeal following the refusal, arguing the site would not be reached by a fire, and maintaining students should be classed as employees for planning purposes. An inquiry was held over 10 days in November.

The six buildings sit within the wider 66-acre Thornton Science Park, which is also home to a number of businesses and start-ups, which are unaffected by the planning decision.

In rejecting the university’s appeal, the planning inspector wrote: “History has shown that even the best risk control measures occasionally fail and that major accidents occur. The council and the HSE make a very simple but effective and persuasive submission.

“Public safety is a priority and is a compelling and overriding consideration against the FSE educational development at Thornton.”

Last year, the university’s legal team accused HSE of “wholly unacceptable and unreasonable behaviour”. In the appeal, HSE said the university’s evidence was “misconceived and seriously misleading”, and was awarded full costs.

A University of Chester spokesperson said: “The university has received the outcome of the Thornton planning appeal. We will consider the decision and its implications and take further advice.”

Barristers from Landmark Chambers advised on each side.

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Very interesting.

Would like to read more on this – could PNW do a feature, maybe…?

By North by North-West

Why are students somehow, suddenly, more vulnerable than either the people who work there, or , indeed, the thousands who worked there for the last 60 years or so??

By Stan Low

computer says no

HSE don’t care about common sense

By david

Having dealt with the same HSE personnel on another project, I can confirm they are deeply unhelpful and utterly intransigent in what they do. Common sense approaches like mitigation measures are dismissed out of hand without consideration. The balance of risks and benefits is not taken into account in any way (not matter how minuscule the risk nor how massive the benefits). The whole approach of the organisation is obstructive and has long outlived its usefulness.

By Anonymous

HSE a law unto itself. Long overdue for radical reform

By Anonymous

Surely the real issue is the failure to properly consider the planning position. If a view had been sought from the Council before the development went ahead then it may have been possible to avoid this. An application for a change of use could have been submitted and appropriate conditions imposed.

Maybe they should have sought advice or thought the Council would not do anything.

After Grenfell public safety should be a top priority.

By Anon

I am appalled at the decision to close the University of Chester’s Science and Engineering Faculty at Thornton Science Park (TSP). I worked at Shell Thornton Research Centre for 34 years and managed Shell’s Hazard and Risk Consultancy until my retirement in 2008. So, as a member of the public, I attended the public inquiry expecting a fair and logical inquiry into the risks, hazards and consequences to occupants of the site. What took place was a one-sided attack on the University’s planning application by the Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWAC), UK Health and Safety Executive (UK HSE) and Essar. Evidence regarding fire science in support of the University’s case was deemed inadmissible.

In support of CWAC’s refusal of retrospective planning permission, the UK HSE proposed that catastrophic failure and fire of a crude oil tank 350m to the north of TSP would kill up to 300 students. Such a failure has never occurred in the western world, but nevertheless was used as proxy for all other minor hazardous events affecting the site. The hazard consequences of spill size, fire and heat were grossly exaggerated and totally unrealistic. The scenario would not kill anyone on site. The frequency of such an event was based on failures of water and chemical tanks and therefore totally inappropriate. The students were treated as though they were as vulnerable as old people in care homes, or patients in hospital or children at a nursery! In fact, the students are given advice about how to respond in case of an incident.

The outcome of all this hogwash is that the students at TSP were classed as very vulnerable people in the most hazardous consultation zone. So, was it surprising that the planning appeal failed!? By the way, the presence of business people on site was considered acceptable!


In response to GAC’s comments, one must assume Place North West will be doing a full investigatory piece on this story?

By Sceptical

Failure to consider the planning position is inept. If the university had sought advice from the council before the development went ahead then it would have been possible to avoid this.

By Anonymous

The Council were happy, indeed ecstatic, about the new use when it was proposed in 2012-13. It was major news in all CWAC bulletins, and growth strategy reports.

By Elle Smere\