Oil firm insists new tanks are not part of any fuel storage expansion

AN oil company’s claims that it is not looking to increase the capacity of its fuel storage facilities in a Borders village have been questioned by local councillors.

But even if, as Johnston Oils old TheSouthern this week, proposals for three new fuel storage tanks are a direct replacements for those already at its site in Newtown St Boswells, there are still concerns amongst residents living near to the fuel depot that no official advice has ever been issued on what to do if there was ever a serious emergency at the facility.

The recent meeting of Newtown & Eildon Community Council heard concerns over the fuel company’s plans, which has its headquarters in Bathgate, to install three new bunded fuel tanks at its depot on land just east of Plainfield Terrace and Earlston Road in the village. The company has lodged an application for full planning consent for the three tanks, each of which has a capacity of 133,000 litres.

Before responding, the community council agreed it should investigate residents’ views, regulations regarding fuel storage near houses, types of fuel to be stored and arrangements to prevent oil spills and pollution.

Roger French is the new secretary of Newtown & Eildon District Community Council.

He has been canvassing the opinions of local residents before reporting back to the community council, which will then form an official opinion on the application and submit it to the local planning authority.

Mr French says the feedback he has received so far indicates a growing level of apprehension and concern among villagers over the fuel company’s proposals.

“From what I have been told these proposed tanks seemed to be additional to the ones that already exist and this would be a doubling of capacity if the application is approved,” Mr French told TheSouthern this week.

“The depot is extremely close to the houses in Plainfield Terrace. It also stores propane, which is also highly flammable.

“No decision has yet been made by the community council, but I expect members will decide to object. There is also concern over the accompanying increase in tanker movements if the site is expanded.”

However, a spokesman for Johnston Oils stressed that the three new tanks were not in addition to its existing tanks but direct replacements for those already there.

“This is an upgrading of our facilities and the capacity will be along similar lines to what we have at the moment,” he said.

On safety concerns, the spokesman said there were stringent safety regulations governing such facilities. “The new tanks are what is called ‘bunded’, which means they are steel tanks with a second skin. If there is ever a problem, the second skin provides additional containment,” he added.

But Mr French says, given that there is a second depot in the village operated by a separate fuel firm, Baxter Johnston Ltd, he is concerned that residents he has so far spoken to have never been given any safety advice in case of an emergency at such facilities.

“I have asked people living nearby and no-one can remember ever being notified of what they should do in case of an emergency.

“But surely someone must have responsibility for notifying local residents of what to do in an emergency?

“There is definitely growing unease over this in the village.”

And local Scottish Borders councillor Kenneth Gunn says, having heard the arguments which the community council has put forward, that he believes the new tanks do represent an increase.

And, referring to recent oil leaks in the Newtown area, he added: “No matter whether increase or replacement, we must ensure that increased safeguards are put in place to guarantee, as far as physically possible, that no repeat of leakage happens again in the village.

“Any accidents here could be devastating, not just for the village and its inhabitants but for the entire River Tweed basin. We must ensure that there are no increases in risk at the proposed site.”

A spokesman for Scottish Borders Council said there was no legal requirement for the council to issue safety advice to residents living near fuel storage facilities.

“What we have is a general major incident plan that would be invoked for any major incident,” he added.