Chicken farm LPG ‘could lead to catastrophe’

STORING 37 tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas next to a busy A14 junction in Huntingdonshire could result in a catastrophic accident, an oil industry expert fears.

Ian Taylor, a former chairman of the Association for Petroleum and Explosives Administration (APEA) - the industry body made up of oil companies, suppliers and regulators - says that quantity of a substance that is just as volatile as petrol should be stored in underground tanks.

And he fears that, if a catastrophic failure in one or more of the 18 proposed tanks at Galley Hill Farm, Hemingford Grey, next to junction 26 of the A14, led to an explosion, his Fenstanton Manor home, 850 metres away, could be first in the firing line.

"I'm really not prepared to be these people's blast wall," he told The Hunts Post.

He said a former expert colleague from APEA has assured him this week that BP was now insisting that all its LPG tanks were buried, though the oil giant was unable to confirm that immediately last night (Tuesday).

"BP wouldn't go to that expense without having carried out an exhaustive risk assessment," Mr Taylor said. "They were pioneers of LPG."

Amber Real Estates Limited has applied to Huntingdonshire District Council for hazardous substances consent for the LPG, as well as for planning consent for a 77-metre wind turbine on the site, which bounded on its northern site by a wildlife haven created around gravel pits off Marsh Lane in Hemingford Grey.

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The site already has consent for a two-million birds a year broiler chicken farm.

The two latest proposals have both generated howls of protest and petitions with up to 800 signatures, presented to HDC last week. Villagers in the Hemingfords and Fenstanton are also complaining about the failure of planners and Hemingford Grey Parish Council to consult them.

"There are several worries about these proposals, apart from the size of the windmill - contamination between tanks, the risk of explosion and the hazard of letting anybody near these tanks because everything LPG touches turns to ice: people who work with LPG have burn scars on their hands from the leaks,” Mr Taylor said.

He described an accident on the A1 that resulted in a woman driver embedding her mini in an above ground LPG tank at a filling station some years ago. The car filled with sub-zero gas, resulting in her losing first her legs and then her life, and the firefighters who rescued her suffering severe frostbite.

"And the explosive power of LPG is much the same as that of petrol," said Mr Taylor, who used to manufacture forecourt fuel pumps. Eighteen four-cubic-metre tanks hold an awful lot of gas.

"If something like last weekend’s M5 accident happened at Galley Hill - and it's a hazardous junction - it would be a whole different ball game.

"And if there were a catastrophic failure of the tanks, we would be vulnerable here. We need reassurance that that's not going to happen."

Although consultation on the turbine and LPG applications has formally finished, planners at HDC routinely accept comments until shortly before applications are determined. And they are likely to hear some trenchant comments from Fenstanton Parish Council following its meeting on Thursday evening.

Councillor Ian Bates, a former leader of HDC who represents the area on Cambridgeshire County Council is opposing the applications. He said: “There are three concerns – the size of the turbine, the location adjacent to the A14 and close to the lakes, and generally whether it is the right place for something like this.

"It will be more than just a turbine for a chicken farm, and there are serious safety issue with the LPG."

The Health and Safety Executive is insisting on strict conditions if hazardous substance consent is granted. It wants the size of LPG road tanker deliveries limited to 18 tonnes per vehicle and the number of deliveries restricted below 100 a year. And it insists that the tanks are connected in banks of six.

But is adds that it has not taken into account developments that have been granted planning permission but have not yet been built.

That would include a new industrial estate diagonally across the A14 junction from Galley Hill Farm.

John McPhillips, who made the application on behalf of Amber Real Estates, said burying the tanks had not been considered. “We take advice from Calor and abide by whatever that advice is,” he said. “Normally, the only objections we get to these applications relate to the flood plain.

"The trouble with putting tanks underground is that you never know when they are leaking."

Brian Barrow, of Acorus Rural Property Services in Bury St Edmunds, which is acting as the applicant’s agent for the schemes, added: "I've not come across a poultry farm with underground tanks."

A spokesman for HSE said: "There is no law that stipulates petroleum must be stored underground and LPG above ground. The key point is that it must be stored safely. The amount means it is below the threshold at which it would fall into the control of major hazard (COMAH) regulations."

The owners were granted planning consent in October last year to demolish the existing broiler sheds and replace them with eight new ones.