THE University of Chester is facing the possibility of relocating its £120m (US$160m) science and engineering faculty at Thornton Science Park after the local council refused to grant retrospective planning permission due to the proximity of Stanlow oil refinery.
The site was formerly the Shell Technology Centre, and in 2014 was gifted by Shell to the university which then developed the Thornton Science Park. The science and engineering faculty has been on the site since then and six of the buildings in the science park are used as teaching space for around 500 students.
Planning permission for change of use was not sought at the time, as the university sought advice from senior planning officers who said that no change of use application was required. The change of building use came to the attention of the planning faculty at Chester West and Chester Council in 2016, which prompted discussions with the university and resulted in the university submitting a retrospective planning application in December 2017.
The planning committee voted by a ruling of seven to four to reject the application to change from an industrial to an educational site. The council acted on advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stating that students were classed as members of the public, rather than employees, and that the proximity of the campus to the Stanlow oil refinery poses a hazard to students.
Stuart Reston from the HSE told The Chester Chronicle: “The Thornton Science Park falls wholly within the inner zone where the risk of being exposed to a toxic substance, an explosion overpressure or a thermal hazard is highest. For major accidents involving fire and explosion, HSE has assessed a representative worst case event which, if it were to occur, would lead to a high likelihood of fatality for people outdoors, and people indoors would likely receive a dangerous dose or worse.”
Tim Wheeler, vice-chancellor of the university, told Times Higher Education: “Our location is absolutely aligned and on mission with the government’s industrial strategy. Working with industry is exactly what we should be doing as a country so in that sense it’s frustrating to be told [we’re in the wrong].”
Wheeler also fears the consequences for technology companies which moved to the park because of the close working relationship with the university. The university intends to appeal the decision but if the appeal is rejected, the university will be forced to move its science and engineering teaching activities to another campus.
The council said in a statement: “Members of the planning committee considered the matter in considerable detail, weighing up the economic benefits delivered by the university faculty wholly being on this site alongside the advice from the HSE of the risk to students. National planning guidance makes it clear that advice from the HSE on planning applications must be treated with the upmost seriousness.”