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Nick Warburton is former editor of SHP Magazine. He is currently working as a freelance journalist and as an account manager at Technical Publicity.
July 29, 2015

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HSE launches planning advice app

iphone-410311_640The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a statutory consultee for planning applications around major hazard sites and pipelines and on applications for hazardous substances consent. Launched on 13 July, its new Planning Advice web app has been designed to speed up and simplify the planning process, saving significant costs for developers and providing greater access to HSE expertise. SHP asks HSE to provide an overview.

Why did HSE feel there was a need for this new planning advice web app?

The new web app was developed in response to users’ needs, including as a result of discussions with developers and other parties involved in the planning process. Developers in particular invest a huge amount of time, money and energy submitting applications, which can hit problems later in the planning consultation stage because the proposed development falls into what we call a ‘consultation zone’ around a major hazard. We may advise against development as a statutory consultee but by that point, they’ve already made a significant investment. Not surprisingly, this can lead to confrontation with developers as costs mount and there are delays in the system. The web app is designed to help overcome these issues.

How does the new app improve upon the conventional approach to land use planning?

Making it quicker and easier for developers to access land use planning information and advice before they submit an application, the new web app offers a number of benefits.
Engaging with HSE’s assessment earlier in the planning process will enable developers to get quick or even immediate answers to queries relating to land for purchase or development.

By tapping into HSE’s expertise on particular proposals at this pre-application stage, they may be able modify plans at a much a lower cost than they can currently under the conventional approach to land use planning. If we do advise against a development, the developer receives a PDF with the reasons for our advice, which should also help inform them on any future proposals.

Why is HSE playing such a significant role?

Things do go wrong. If you look at the Buncefield explosion in December 2005, one of the reasons why fortunately there were no fatalities is because of the UK’s planning system. Although commercial properties in the vicinity sustained significant damage, the risk of any fatalities was greatly reduced. Tragically, this has not been the case in some other countries where planning systems allow different developments closer to major hazard sites.

What does the web app cover?

The Planning Advice web app deals with consultations (enquiries) about proposed developments which may be either a pre-planning enquiry or a formal consultation (usually a local authority) after a planning application has been submitted. However, the enquiry must be about a specific development in a specified place. Proposed nuclear installations or developments in the vicinity of quarries do not fall within the scope of the web app, nor does it cover consultations about development briefs, unitary plans, local plans, environmental impact assessments or hazardous substances consents.

How does it work in practice?

The person making the enquiry can access the planning web app via www.hsl.gov.uk/planningadvice. Once they start using the service, the enquirer can locate the area they want to develop by, for instance, typing in the post code. They can then zoom in on the resulting map to identify the area they want to develop. They must then draw in the boundary of the proposed development. If there are plans to include more than one development type on a site, for instance, a shopping centre, car park, and houses, the boundary of each must be drawn. The web app is designed for simple enquiries with a limited number of development types. If an enquiry is complex, then the developer is advised to contact the helpline provided.

Each enquiry is treated in two distinct parts. The first is to determine if the proposed development falls within a major hazard zone or pipeline zone and/or in an explosive safeguarding zone. If it doesn’t, then HSE’s role as a statutory consultee ends there. However, if it does, then the developer is asked further details about the use of the development to determine the advice from HSE i.e. whether the agency advises against the development or does not advise against the development. There is a £350 charge to access this information but the benefit of doing so is that an enquirer will find out, at an early stage in the process, whether or not it remains desirable to press ahead with their development plan. At both stages, PDF documents are generated with written confirmation of the advice. If the developer wants to pursue the enquiry further, they can contact HSE directly but depending on the nature of the enquiry, they may incur further costs.

What are your future plans for the web app?
Looking ahead, we will look to see what further data sets can be added to the Web App to help users. We will also consider implementing additional, related services in response to feedback from users.

Where should developers go if they want to find out more?

Developers, Local Authorities and others wishing to learn more about land use planning will find further information and resources on the Health and Safety Executive’s website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/landuseplanning/.

Anyone considering developing a site which lies close to a major hazard can be provided with information about the consultation distances and zones which apply, so that they know whether HSE would be consulted over a planning application. Guidance as to what advice HSE would provide on such proposals is provided, as a chargeable service, by a dedicated team based in HSE’s Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) which developed the Planning Advice web app.

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