Plans for Bristol International Airport's 2009 expansion proposals
showing a new underground aviation fuel depot alongside a hotel development
All of the major RAF and USAF airbases around the UK, together with key installations such as AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield, are connected to large oil refineries around the coastline using a massive network of underground high pressure pipelines and Petroleum Storage Depots (PSD), referred to as the Government Pipelines and Storage System (GPSS). For safety reasons, the locations of these pipelines are marked with identification posts which look rather like bird feeding tables with brightly coloured roofs (as pictured further below).
The GPSS also connects into various commercial pipeline systems maintained by the likes of Esso, Conoco, TotalFinaElf, etc. and the network is fully described on a public website:-
Suspicious flurry of MoD GPSS planning applications exploiting legal loophole
Rather interestingly, in December 2006 there was a suspicious flurry of rather hurried MoD planning applications to various UK councils for special "deemed consent" approval, apparently exploiting a legal loophole. This sudden rush was because from 7th December 2006, these GPSS depots were no longer exempt, through Crown Immunity, from planning laws relating to the storage and transportation of hazardous substances.
Local residents, living within a few hundred yards of the depots, suspected that the way was being paved for future full commercial fuel distribution operations. However, they had no problems with the previously well-established use of these sites by pipeline for maintaining strategic military infrastructure.
The MoD applications tried to claim prior full scale depot usage by not only pipeline but also road and rail in the legal "establishing period", 12 months previous to December 2006. The residents, with their obvious local knowledge of daily movements, realised that the MoD was exaggerating these claims of full prior use in order to rush through the "deemed consent".
In most cases, the depots were only ever regularly served by underground pipeline and road usage was only for occasional maintenance access. In one instance a depot's disused rail branch had actually been permanently removed from the adjacent main line by track engineers back in 2004!
Whilst some timid council officials in South Gloucestershire were all too ready to speedily comply with the MoD's last-minute requests, others in North Somerset met with a surprisingly well-organised campaign of formal objections led by an action group, whose members even commissioned a firm of planning law experts for assistance.
It was noted that the Christmas 2006 holiday period had been used to great cynical effect, denying interested parties their chance of consultation, especially as the planning decisions could be taken after just 14 days following receipt of the applications.
However, one particularly attentive council planning officer in South Norfolk immediately threw out an application as invalid, after spotting the legal loophole trick, insisting the application was re-submitted in the correct manner!
He told the MoD, "The ability to apply for Deemed Hazardous Substance Consent was restricted to a time period of 12 months from the regulations coming into effect. This 'establishment period' expired on 20th October 1999. I can find no provision in the legislation which exempts Crown Land from this limitation".
Question raised in Parliament – application thrown-out
In a very interesting development, just days after I published this news exclusive here, a brief but intriguing question was raised in Parliament on 7th March 2007, concerning the first North Somerset planning application listed further below.
It was directed at Adam Ingram, MP (Labour) and Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, by Dr. Liam Fox, MP (Conservative), the local Member of Parliament for Woodspring, North Somerset and who just happens to be the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence!
Dr. Fox: "To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what refined hydrocarbon liquids were received at Flax Bourton oil storage depot in the 12 months to December 2006".
Mr. Ingram: "No refined petroleum products were received at the Flax Bourton depot for the purposes of storage over the 12 months to December 2006. Small quantities of product were, however, brought onto the site for local consumption during that period".
In other key developments, it seemed that Flax Bourton Parish Council was ready for a fight with North Somerset Council and the MoD. Eventually by 13th June 2007, after a protracted battle, the Flax Bourton deemed consent application was treated as withdrawn because it was clearly invalid due to the various errors and exaggerations in the paperwork. The MoD were told by North Somerset Council's legal experts to make a fresh accurate application in full for "express consent", not using the "deemed consent" trick.
By 20th June 2007, a fresh application to this effect had been made by the Secretary of State for Defence himself! But after seeking expert opinion, the Flax Bourton councillors reckoned this
application was invalid too. They urged North Somerset Council to reject again ... which indeed they did on 18th July 2007!
Then in early August 2007, the MoD made a third
attempt and submitted a full hazardous substances planning application for, effectively, a brand new fuel storage depot to be constructed on site, thereby finally admitting the Flax Bourton facility had been derelict all along!
The residents became even more suspicious that commercial fuel operations based at Flax Bourton were being planned, following on from Q8's major development of Bristol Aviation Fuel Terminal at Portbury Docks announced in June 2006.
Have a look at all of the evidence on the local government websites, many of which also contain some fascinating extremely detailed technical drawings.
- Bremhill Bridge PSD, Purton, Wiltshire
Proposal by Taylor Wimpey for 800 new homes and a primary school at
Ridgeway Farm, Common Platt, right next to the depot: January 2011
More information — Including petition by local residents
Installation of slops tank for maintenance of depot and pipeline: June 2008
- Flax Bourton PSD, North Somerset
Full consent, withdrawn: 18th July 2007:-
Deemed consent, withdrawn: 13th June 2007:-
- Redcliffe Bay PSD, North Somerset
October 2007: RETROSPECTIVE full planning application for a new Odour Control System
using Activated Carbon Absorption Units (ACAU) on tank vents:-
December 2006: Original deemed consent application:-
- Berwick Wood PSD, South Gloucestershire
- Hallen PSD, South Gloucestershire
- Hethersett PSD, South Norfolk
Hethersett PSD has been listed for disposal by MoD, following the closure of
RAF Coltishall – which it served – and the land is to be auctioned off
- Plumley PSD, Cheshire
- Blackmoor PSD, South Yorkshire
Blackmoor PSD application (2010) details
Blackmoor PSD application (2007) details
Blackmoor PSD Plan 1
Blackmoor PSD Plan 2
Blackmoor PSD Plan 3
- Eastham PSD, Wirral
Now read on throughout this section to discover the precise "secret" locations to which those planning applications refer ... and many, many more!
One key "secret" aviation fuel pipeline was catapulted very much into the public domain in March 2000, when some "Bertie Bodger" workmen sliced through it in a small village on the edge of the Peak District, just 10 miles to the south east of my home town and near my regular weekend watering holes in the town of
, High Peak.
The residents living around
Yeardsley Lane in Furness Vale
, just north of Whaley Bridge, were all evacuated to the village hall and the presence of BBC camera crews from Manchester, providing a live feed to the local news programme, ensured that the "secret" pipeline was then known about by the whole of the north west of England at least!
The Furness Vale GPSS pipeline marker post (pictured below in 2005) is at the top of Yeardsley Lane, a hill which rises out of the village centre south west towards Yeardsley Hall. On the other side of the lane, the information plate can be found with details of an emergency contact number.
Note the triangular logo (right) on the plate reading "SGE". That refers to Serco Gulf Engineering – the name of the company which manages and maintains many of these GPSS depots. Other names to look out for are Unipen (and the parent company Penspen), Babcock Infrastructure and the land agents Fisher German.
Another more serious incident happened in May 1998 in Patchway, Bristol.
For the full details, including a Bird's Eye aerial photo, read on!
GPSS pipeline marker post at Yeardsley Lane, Furness Vale, High Peak
GPSS pipeline marker information plate at Furness Vale
and some of the houses that were evacuated in March 2000
GPSS pipeline information plate showing emergency contact details
The Furness Vale underground pipeline, described above, operates at 1100 psi pressure and forms part of the key GPSS network running west - east between the PSD at
near Chester, just south of the giant oil refinery at
, Ellesmere Port and the PSDs at
on Humberside. The Backford GPSS site is referred to by locals as the Civil Reserve Depot and there's also an old abandoned neighbouring PSD known as
which is next door to Chester Zoo.
Still in Cheshire, you can find an old GPSS depot alongside the main Manchester to Crewe train line near to where it passes the world famous Jodrell Bank Radio Astronomy Telescope. The
is beyond the train station towards the neighbouring village of Twemlow Green, but it was listed for disposal by the MoD in 2007. Previously it has also been used for the commercial supply of aviation fuel from Stanlow to Manchester International Airport via Backford.
Another depot in the Cheshire countryside, on the same Stanlow to Manchester Airport line, can be found amongst the old Holford Moss brine extraction fields at
, in a secure compound near to Cheadle Farm. In fact, the Ministry of Defence owns Cheadle Farm and it is rented out to the tenant cattle farmer who supplies posh restaurants and hotels with his Traditional Farmhouse Beef.
The branch to Backford from Stanlow also uses a storage depot near the oil refineries. But which one? There are obviously numerous ones around the Ellesmere Port area. Look around Eastham Docks near Bromborough on the Wirral peninsula and you'll find an
underground tank farm
hidden away behind the club house for Eastham Golf Course on Ferry Road and tucked in next to the Carlett Park campus for Wirral Metropolitan College!
Half way along the Backford to Rawcliffe Bridge GPSS line, just over the Pennine Hills south west of Barnsley in South Yorkshire, you'll find
, between the villages of Oxspring and Thurgoland.
Other key fuel storage depots, this time on the main north - south GPSS route on the east side of the country between Rawcliffe Bridge and AWE Aldermaston, can be found at Walkeringham, just south of
near Doncaster in South Yorkshire and at
The fuel depot at Sandy sits very uneasily next door to "The Lodge" - the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)! But what else of interest is in this area? You'll be amazed! Read on into the next section! A westward branch from Sandy PSD takes the GPSS system towards the old USAF base at Upper Heyford, using a depot at
, Oxfordshire which sits alongside the train station.
A branch line once ran into the depot but is no longer visible. Indeed, the depot itself is hidden not only from OS 1:50000 and 1:25000 scale maps, but also MAGIC's 1:10000 data!
Part way along the north-south Misterton to Sandy pipeline, take a look alongside the old Grantham Canal between the villages of Barkstone-le-Vale and Redmile in the Vale of Belvoir, where the three counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire all meet. There are two GPSS depots
of the canal. The northern one is actually further split into two by the canal route and the parts are connected by overhead pipeline.
This was a WWII storage and supply depot and the main entrance is situated behind the site of the disused Redmile and Belvoir train station. The wartime depot would have been served by a branch line into sidings here. Take a look at Redmile's community archive website for a wartime photo from 1944
, showing local residents manning a fleet of fuel tankers at the depot.
Another GPSS depot further south along the main eastern backbone between Rawcliffe and Sandy shows up very nicely on Google Earth. It is actually marked on all OS maps, is unsurprisingly labelled "Depot" at 1:10000 scale and the site has a very interesting history.
Take a look at the
Sawtry fuel depot
, just south east of the Cambridgeshire town and on the eastern side of Junction 15 of the A1(M) on a minor road out towards Woodwalton. It is close to the old USAF airbase at Alconbury and the field containing the high security compound provided the location for a WWII Prisoner of War Camp.
The GPSS pipeline at Sandy also branches eastwards to
in Essex, to a depot hidden behind the town's hospital. The system then extends north east to another depot, this time on an industrial estate close to the town centre of
, Norfolk. The network extends even further to yet another depot alongside the A11 just west of Norwich, at the village of
The latter two depots serve the numerous airbases in East Anglia, including famously the key USAF bases at Lakenheath and Mildenhall and of course, Norwich Airport.
The GPSS network via Sandy and Thetford actually also extends east and south east, respectively, to another depot (now disused) just north west of Ipswich, Suffolk, alongside the A14 dual carriageway at Great Blakenham, near
. The former depot is next to the proposed £350m SnOasis winter sports and holiday resort due to open in 2009.
From here the GPSS network goes on to the former twin USAF bases at
on the other side of Ipswich and close to Rendlesham Forest - all too well known to UFO conspiracy theorists. In December 2005, the Bentwaters base was the scene of even more bizarre events - it was the filming location for Channel 4's hilarious spoof space shuttle programme, "Space Cadets" in 2005 and also Derren Brown's Apocalypse in 2012. The full details are further below in a special section!
Two other good examples of Defence Fuel Storage Depots can be spotted near
in Northamptonshire and at
close to Purton near Swindon, Wiltshire. They are missing from OS 1:50000 and 1:25000 maps, but a further investigation at 1:10000 scale, using the Government's own MAGIC website, reveals that coy label "Depot" again. The Bremhill Bridge depot is pictured further below in a special Bird's Eye view from Windows Live Local.
The Kelmarsh depot is part of the same network as the Misterton and Sandy storage bases and is right on the path of the Midshires Way and Brampton Valley Way walking routes. Further research involving 19th century maps reveals that the depot was built on the site of the old Kelmarsh Station which served the dismantled train line, now providing the path of the walking routes.
Consider the old WWII bomber base at RAF Chelveston in Northamptonshire. More recently, it has been used as a huge communications mast farm by the MoD. However, if you look very closely just south east of what was the main runway, you can spot the old
connected into the Kelmarsh – Sandy GPSS line.
GPSS pipeline connection between Sandy and Kelmarsh depots
at the old WWII bomber base – RAF Chelveston
GPSS pipeline depot at RAF Chelveston
The Purton storage depot was built on top of some old railway sidings (note the main line running alongside) and can be clearly viewed from the road running over Bremhill Bridge itself. It feeds the airbases at RAF Fairford and RAF Brize Norton via a northern branch from the main east-west GPSS line, using a T-junction depot at
, down Wenhill Lane running south west of the town centre.
That main GPSS line at Calne actually runs west from AWE Aldermaston towards the refineries at Avonmouth on the Bristol Channel. Two key depots can be spotted just north and south of the M5 motorway at
and Hallen, close to the BAe Systems airfield at Filton. The Hallen depot is actually split over three sites to the
of Haw Wood.
Two other obscure GPSS depots can be found in Wiltshire, which up until 2006 were listed on the MoD's Sensitive Sites Register. A valve compound can be spotted near Littlecott in a field next to a farmhouse on the minor road between Hilmarton and Bushton, north of Calne. The
Littlecott GPSS valve depot
provides the spur connecting the GPSS line from Calne across to the underground fuel bowsers at the south eastern corner of RAF Lyneham near the village of Goatacre.
If you travel east from Marlborough on the main A4 over the border into Berkshire towards Hungerford, you'll be familiar with the huge Savernake Forest to the south. But consider a track leading north towards Puthall Farm and the earthworks for the medieval village of Henset. Alongside the farm track and behind Puthall Cottages you'll find the
GPSS Puthall Farm pumping station
for the main line running towards AWE Aldermaston.
Just like the Furness Vale, High Peak accident in March 2000 described earlier, in a major incident in May 1998 the GPSS pipeline between the depots at Calne in Wiltshire and Berwick Wood, Avonmouth was damaged by workmen who had actually been contracted to perform maintenance on a valve.
In the 1998 event, an underground pipeline was ruptured within a
(which houses a BT telephone exchange and an electricity substation) on Gloucester Road, Patchway, Bristol, illustrated below in a Bird's Eye aerial photo
from Windows Live Local. It is near to the Aztec West business park, Filton Airfield and also the old Rolls-Royce East Works aero engine test bed facility on Gipsy Patch Lane. The compound is also right next door to Patchway High School and the Star Service Station – a Texaco petrol station.
Even though the aviation fuel pipeline wasn't operating at full pumping pressure at the time, it still resulted in land contamination by escaping kerosene. This caused adjacent properties to be flooded with fuel, leading to families being evacuated from their homes in an emergency clean-up operation involving removal of contaminated soil to a landfill site.
In a special magazine feature in February 2000, the Environmental Health Journal (EHJ) – since relaunched as the Environmental Health Practitioner (EHP) – described the event and the ensuing remedial operation, detailing lessons to be learned.
The GPSS network in the south west around Avonmouth near Bristol also extends to two other key storage depots at
(also spelt Redcliff) near Portishead and
The Redcliffe Bay depot sits between the Portishead to Clevedon Coastal Path and an old caravan park, which has now been replaced with the exclusive Charlcombe Heights housing development.
Meanwhile, the Flax Bourton depot (pictured further below in another special Bird's Eye view) is only a couple of miles north of Bristol International Airport. Flax Bourton was also a Ministry of Supply facility during WWII and you can spot the old Tyntesfield Sidings branch from the main train line running past. The track forming the branch into the depot was only removed by engineers in 2004.
Study very carefully the Bird's Eye photo of the Hethersett GPSS depot in Norfolk and you can spot another disused special train branch line running through a locked gate. There's even a passenger train running along the main line right on cue!
As already hinted at earlier in my special Google Maps implementation, just north east of AWE Aldermaston, around Padworth Common, you can spot a cluster of no less than four
GPSS depots (pictured further below). One of them (on the eastern side of the aerial photo) is the main
run by Serco Gulf and Babcock Engineering. The other three are located to the
of Padworth village.
The Padworth GPSS depots are not apparent on normal OS Landranger 1:50000 mapping but switching to 1:25000 scale reveals the tell-tale underground tank farms. Further investigation at
, using the Government's MAGIC website, shows those handy "depot" labels. Getmapping's aerial photo data strips away all the annoying foliage and razor wire fencing that gets in the way on the ground!
The GPSS network centred around AWE Aldermaston, utilising all the depots at Padworth, also extends eastwards towards the refineries on the Isle Of Grain stopping off on the way via a storage depot alongside the River Thames in Surrey at
near to Sunbury Lock. Another branch south from Padworth connects the system to the refineries near Southampton using a depot at
, on Satchell Lane next to the exclusive Neptune Yacht Marina.
Half way along that southern branch between Padworth and Hamble, you can find the old WWII RAF strategic fuel reserve depot built into the hillside at
between Basingstoke and Winchester in Hampshire. The former presence of this huge underground fuel reservoir (pictured further below in an exclusive Pilot's Eye View) may go some way to explaining the sudden strange "kink" in the route of the A303 dual carriageway, which would have run right over the top otherwise!
Up in Scotland, there are just two key GPSS depots serving the strategic airbases north of the border. RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss are supplied by a storage depot at
, as is the city's own airport. The depot is on the north tip of the Longman Industrial Estate, in the shadow of the majestic Kessock Bridge carrying the A9 over the Moray Firth and next to the new Inverness Caledonian Thistle Football Stadium.
Meanwhile, RAF Leuchars near St. Andrews is a short golf ball putt from a GPSS depot near the Tay Bridge at Dundee. It can be found at
Down at the far south west of the UK, a GPSS depot can be found at
in Cornwall, which serves Newquay Airport and RAF St. Mawgan.
The whole of the MoD's GPSS network is controlled from the Defence Fuels Group at
near Wimborne, Dorset. It is a tri-service fuel storage, distribution and training centre, designated the Defence School of Petroleum and also known as the Defence Petroleum Centre. It is the place where all those planning applications originated in December 2006, discussed at the start of this section in my exclusive news story!
Check out all these special links to Windows Live Local, showing close-up Bird's Eye views of GPSS depots and also the location of the Patchway, Bristol GPSS pipeline incident in May 1998:-
Aerial view of GPSS Defence Fuel Storage DepotsAerial photo data: www.getmapping.com
Clockwise from top left:
Backford, Chester; Rawcliffe Bridge, Humberside; Killingholme, Humberside; Sawtry, Cambridgeshire;
Sandy, Bedfordshire; Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire; Purton, Wiltshire; Misterton, South Yorkshire
© Getmapping plc