Thornton campus could be closed to students due to “significant” safety risks

The HSE argues the campus’ proximity to an oil refinery poses a “significant risk”

The University of Chester is facing the prospect of closing its Thornton Science Park campus, home of the Science & Engineering Faculty, due to concerns raised by the government's Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The Chester Standard reports that the university had lodged a retrospective planning application to change the use of six buildings from industrial to educational purposes. The site was originally owned by oil giant Shell but has been used for the likes of Engineering and Maths courses since the uni bought the site in 2014.

Planning officers have asked the council to reject the application, arguing that the risks to students from a major incident at the nearby Stanlow Oil Refinery outweigh any of the stated benefits.

Image may contain: Refinery, Factory, Building

Stanlow Oil Refinery

The Chester Chronicle reports HSE correspondence as stating "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." It added that in a worst case scenario at the refinery, there would be a "high likelihood of fatality for people outdoors".

Planners for the university argue that the likelihood of such an event is very low and that Thornton shouldn't be included in the inner zone. The uni even goes as far to argue that students should be given 'employee' status on the site, due to the strict health and safety induction all Thornton campus students go through.

However, planning officers reject this, advising the council that "[t]he HSE’s letter details the consequences of a major incident at the oil refinery and it is clear that no health and safety regime will make a material difference to the outcome."

It will be up to the Council Planning Committee members to decide whether or not they will accept the HSE and planning officers recommendations and force the university to close the site to students. The university would have the option to appeal such a decision.

If Councillors do vote to close the campus, it will be the second major set back in recent months for the university's expansion plans, having lost out on significant government funding for a new medical school.