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Famous gasometers stump Oval redevelopment plans

Upgrade of south London cricket ground rejected over fears of another Buncefield

Fears of another Buncefield oil depot-style explosion was behind the decision not to give Surrey County Cricket Club the green light for a £35 million redevelopment of its Brit Oval ground in south London.

The explosion at the Buncefield complex near Hemel Hempstead in December 2005, which injured 42 people, saw 60 million gallons of fuel go up in smoke.

Last month Lambeth Borough Council rejected plans for a 170-bedroom four-star hotel and an upgrade of the Brit Oval.

The Health and Safety Executive has now admitted this was because the development was too close to the landmark Kennington gasometers.

New legislation now requires the HSE to be consulted on all developments near gas installations.

The rules came into force after the club’s OCS stand was completed by Taylor Woodrow earlier in 2005. The OCS is the same distance away from the gasometers as the proposed new development.

A cricket club spokeswoman said: “We were told by various consultants that the Buncefield disaster is a now key concern for planning officials. We are now finalising our new plans.”

But the HSE insisted the gasometers still pose a significant threat to the development.

A spokesman said: “There are on average three or four large gas escapes every year from gasholders, which could lead to a major incident if the gas found an ignition source.

“Our role is purely advisory. It is for the planning authority to take into account other economic or social factors that should be considered. Although such events are rare, they should not be ignored when considering what developments to allow.”

Surrey CCC is now busily redrawing its plans for the redevelopment ahead of a Lambeth planners meeting on the issue, which is due to be held on 19 December.

The club wants work on the new 6,000 seat stand that will replace the existing Lock, Laker and May stands to be completed by spring 2009 and so not miss out on extra revenue when England play Australia in the 2009 Ashes series.

In June, French project management firm Coteba was the surprise winner of the project from Arora International Hotels after seeing off competition from Mace.

When completed, the upgrade of the Brit Oval by specialist stadium architect HOK will increase ground’s capacity to 25,000.