THE University of Chester could be forced to stop using its education buildings on Thornton Science Park, it has emerged.

The Government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has deemed the operation poses too much of a risk to students due to its proximity to the Stanlow Oil Refinery.

A retrospective planning application has been lodged by the university requesting permission to change the use of six key buildings from industrial research and development to education.

Planning officers at Cheshire West and Chester Council have recommended that the planning committee rejects the application when it meets on Tuesday (June 5).

If members agree with the council officers the university will be served with an enforcement notice demanding all lectures and classes at the six buildings cease.

The buildings are said to include lecture theatres, laboratories, workshops, conference rooms, a library and offices.

Thornton Science Park on Pool Lane, Ince, is home to both the university’s Faculty of Engineering and a number of science and technology-based companies.

It was part of the wider Shell site before it was bought by the University of Chester in 2014 and the refinery was sold to Essar.

University chiefs say the close collaboration between on-site businesses and educational facilities is what makes the park and faculty a success.

However, council papers published ahead of Tuesday’s meeting reveal the HSE believes the proximity of a “hazardous installation” such as the refinery poses too great a risk.

Outlining the HSE’s stance, the report states: “There is a significant difference between the use of the site for research and development purposes by employees, when compared to the use of the site for educational purposes by concentrations of students.”

The university has argued that students should be regarded as employees rather than members of the public due to a strict induction process and health and safety regime.

They are bussed onto the site and there is no overnight accommodation at the park.

The council report states: “The justification submitted by the university to support the application is essentially two-pronged: firstly, that the actual level of risk is lower than suggested and manageable; secondly, that the proposal helps to deliver national and local aspirations to deliver a science hub in Cheshire, which will have significant benefits.

“It is argued by the applicant that the benefits of the scheme outweigh the relatively low risks involved in the faculty being sited on the Science Park."

But the HSE has rejected this, advising the council’s planning committee to refuse the application.

“The 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,” the papers say.

While the risk of a major fire or explosion is low, council officers remind the committee that such incidents are “not simply theoretical” citing Buncefield in Hertfordshire in 2005 as an example.

The report states: “It is the view of officers that in weighing-up the risks versus the benefits, the risks are very clear and well-established whereas the benefits, whilst significant to a point, are less clear cut.”

Recommending the application for refusal, it continues: “Given that the application is retrospective, members are also advised that a refusal of this application will lead to the service of an Enforcement Notice requiring the use of the buildings for D1 [educational] purposes to cease.

“The university would be entitled to appeal against both the refusal of this application and an Enforcement Notice.”