Explosions trigger call for policy review

Calls to review planning policy for siting oil depots near homes and businesses mounted this week after a huge blaze at the Buncefield site in Hemel Hempstead.

Local MP Mike Penning called for an inquiry into the siting of such depots after a series of explosions last Sunday that saw 20 fuel tanks catch fire, sending a thick plume of smoke across the South East.

The blast, which was the largest incident of its kind in peacetime Europe, injured 43 people. It also caused extensive damage to nearby homes, from which around 2,000 residents had to be evacuated.

Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Sarah Teather argued that deputy prime minister John Prescott should consider future planning policy on siting fuel depots close to residential and commercial areas. Prescott said that planning permission was given for the homes near the site. "I will certainly look into that and see whether any lessons can be learned," he added.

Dacorum Borough Council planning portfolio holder Ian Reay said the local plan review is an opportunity to rethink the structure of land use in the area. He noted that it may be impossible to develop a green buffer around such sites but said blast protection should be considered.

Reay added that proposals from some landowners to increase housing in the area will now have to be considered in light of the explosions. The depot was built in the 1960s, when there were fewer homes around the site.

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