Lives 'risked to avoid bill'

The risk of catastrophic loss of life by building a fourth block of student flats close to gas cylinders is less important to Wolverhampton Council than the cost of scrapping it, top judges heard today.

The risk of catastrophic loss of life by building a fourth block of student flats close to gas cylinders is less important to Wolverhampton Council than the cost of scrapping it, top judges heard today.

The Health and Safety Executive is furious that councillors gave permission for the £40 million four-block student village without informing it, despite potentially explosive gas cylinders being stored at Carvers building merchants nearby.

Last year a High Court judge ruled the landmark Victoria Halls development, which includes a 25-storey block off Wednesfield Road close to Carvers, can stay.

But today the HSE launched an appeal to try to stop the fourth block being built, warning a fire at Carvers could lead to an inferno of "thermal radiation, flash fires, vapour cloud explosions and missiles".

The HSE's counsel Philip Coppel QC warned that more than 100 students could die or be badly injured.

He told the court in London today that, if the August 2008 planning permission has to be modified and the fourth block cannot be built, the council may have to pay developer Victoria Hall Ltd substantial compensation.

He accused the council of putting the potential cost to the public purse above the risk of any possible disaster, saying: "The lessening of the risk of accidental death to numerous members of the public from an LPG explosion should have been a highly relevant consideration.

"It did not feature in Wolverhampton's deliberations."

The HSE has given up its attempts to take action over the first three blocks, which were completed last year and are home to hundreds of University of Wolverhampton students.

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