Eccles residents fight ‘hazardous’ fuel dump plan

Alarmed Eccles residents have hit out at “hazardous” plans to build a fuel storage depot in the village.

An application by Dumfries-based Johnstone Wallace Fuels to change the use of agricultural land north east of Eccles Garage to a fuel storage depot has led to resident fears that Eccles village could become ‘Eccles Industrial Park’.

And with the planning application proposing a facility at Eccles to store 550,000 litres of kerosene, road derv and gas oil, concerned villagers are urging SBC’s planning department to consider the Buncefield incident investigation report, which was ordered following a series of explosions at a Hertfordshire oil storage depot in December 2005.

Eccles resident and surveyor Roger Dodd said: “There’s a lot of concern about this in the village, not least because the product to be stored on the site introduces a major hazard to the area.”

The blast at Buncefield Oil Storage Depot at Hemel Hempstead five years ago quickly became a major incident, with 2,000 people evacuated from their homes and a section of the M1 motorway closed while 180 firefighters tackled the huge blaze. Nearby schools and homes suffered blast damage and windows were blown from St Albans Abbey five miles way.

The independent report on the Buncefield Depot Disaster later stated that the location of major hazard potential alongside neighbouring residential and commercial development was “one of the starkest issues” raised by the incident.

Mr Dodd said: “I have been doing some research on this, and while it is accepted the Buncefield incident arose from a much larger storage facility than that proposed at Eccles, the risks to life and property are similar.

“A depot like this, which stores hazardous materials, should be located well away from any residents.

“Eccles is a small village, but whether you lose one life or 200 lives it makes no odds.

“Both local and central government authorities have a habit of accepting that ‘lessons need to be learnt’ after poor decisions have been made. This is a case where the authority needs to learn the appropriate lessons, prior to arriving at a decision.”

After the Buncefield Disaster, the Health Protection Agency and the Major Incident Investigation Board provided advice to prevent such incidents in the future. With particular reference to planning, the report recommends that Local Authorities prepare a Quantified Risk Analysis and takes advice from emergency responders. It also says attention should be given where it may be “difficult to organise people in the event of an emergency and in developments of over 30 dwelling units an increase in numbers at risk”.

And with around 40 homes and a primary school in close proximity to the proposed development, with half of the village’s population retired, and some of the very elderly requiring carers, residents feel planning permission should not be considered in this case.

Mr Dodd said that residents were particularly concerned about the application because their views have been disregarded in the past.

“The community has, as it were, been here before, when an application was put forward some years ago for broiler houses a short distance outwith the village,” Mr Dodd explained.

“The community felt that the council rode rough shot over them then, so this time round they are more on their guard.

“It’s only a small village but there’s a lot of concern about this. It’s going into greenfield space - why are they even considering it? There needs to be a bit of debate about it.”

Considering the report into the Buncefiled Depot Disaster, the fact that the proposed site is on greenfield land, and objections from a number of residents, some would say the plans stand little chance of approval. But Mr Dodd said you can’t take anything for granted.

“I’m a surveyor myself so I’ve spent much of my time dealing with these boys. I have worked with planners for such a long time I know that they are totally unpredictable,” he warned.

As well as the potential hazard the fuel storage depot would pose, residents are concerned about the environmental and visual impact it would have on the village, with the proposed site on greenfield land outside the development boundary of the village.

In a letter to SBC’s planning department, Eccles residents Tom and Grace Ormiston warned that Eccles could become ‘Eccles Industrial Park’. They wrote: “We are not adverse to development that improves the village and brings in families and new residents. We are, however, very concerned about large scale industrial development and if planning permission is granted for this Fuel Depot it will lead, without doubt, to further and larger development in the future. Eccles village will become Eccles Industrial Park and the quality of life we currently enjoy will be lost.”

SBC confirmed that they are currently processing the application and a decision was likely to be taken early in the new year. A council spokesperson said: “A number of consultations were carried out with council departments and external bodies and responses are due within the next couple of weeks. To date, 10 objection letters have been received to the application.”