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Buncefield Explosion

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2007

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The House will recall the scale of the fire and explosions that took place at the Buncefield fuel depot on 11 December 2005. On the following day the Deputy Prime Minister made a Statement to the House thanking the emergency services, the voluntary services, local authority staff, government officials and local people for the magnificent way in which they had responded to the event. In response to a recent request (Business Questions, 17 May 2007) from the honourable Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), the Leader of the House asked for a Statement on progress.

Following on from earlier visits made by the Deputy Prime Minister and the then Fire Minister, I visited the area in July last year and met many of those who had been affected directly or had a role to play in facilitating the recovery process. I maintain a close interest in how matters are progressing and I am aware that more remains to be done.

The House will be aware that on 20 December 2005 the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) announced that it had asked the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency to investigate the incident at the Buncefield oil depot and to appoint an investigation board with an independent chair. This reflected the commission's view that an independent investigation offered the best prospect of ensuring early identification and sharing of lessons learnt and for these reasons would be in the best interests of health and safety.

The establishment of an independent investigation board, under the chairmanship of the right honourable Lord Newton of Braintree, to oversee detailed investigation into key aspects of the Buncefield incident is ensuring that information is swiftly made available to the public, subject only to legal considerations. The board is conducting its business openly, in close consultation with key stakeholders including members of the affected community. So far, five reports have been issued within a 15-month period, all of which are available from the official investigation website located at www.buncefieldinvestigation.gov.uk.

The board has been working on the four areas of concern it identified last July, and has already begun to issue recommendations. The first set of recommendations, relating to the design and operation of fuel storage sites, were published in March, and a further set on emergency planning, response and recovery is currently in preparation.

I have written direct to the honourable Member.