Petrol is dangerous... after 79 years

It is the end of an era as a Tribunal in Belfast recently determined an appeal over the refusal to renew a petroleum-spirit licence after eight decades of trading.


The Byrne family have been selling petrol at the curbside on Church Street, Antrim, since 1943. By statute, this activity requires a licence to keep petroleum-spirit and carry on a petroleum-spirit dispensing business. They are issued annually by the local Council.

In 2019, the Appellant, Ms Byrne, applied to renew her licence. The Respondent, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, refused her application.

The Appellant appealed to the Health and Safety Tribunal for Northern Ireland (“the Tribunal”).

Representing herself, the Appellant contended that the published guidance referred only to new sites. Her neighbours were notified when petrol was to be delivered and, other than for 15 minutes each week, had priority.

The Appellant maintained that there was no need for a risk assessment since that was only necessary, she maintained, if there were four or more staff employed in dispensing petroleum.

Further, the Appellant stated that re-fuelling of petroleum would be halted if there were any pedestrians and that there was no risk of ignition except when re-fuelling was taking place. The pump was only operated by her staff, with customers advised not to smoke or use mobile phones. This had never presented a problem.

The Respondent raised health and safety concerns with the Appellant following an inspection in 2019. A series of recommendations were made to the Appellant who maintained that the legislation did not apply to her premises nor processes.

Tribunal Decision

The Appellant had an unblemished record in dispensing petrol. Her methodology was not unlawful. That said since 2012 the setup would not meet planning requirements and the conditions of a new licence. The Appellant has not taken any steps to bring her premises or methodology up to date in line with “…current legislation and expert guidance.”

The Tribunal found that:

…the petroleum-dispensing pump, located on the public highway, along the frontage of the Appellant’s said premises, adjoining a neighbouring residential property, creates a hazardous zone which is not contained wholly within the site boundary and the petroleum dispenser is not located at a safe distance from openings in the neighbouring residential property…

The applicable Regulations recommend that “…the hazardous area of the petroleum dispenser to be located wholly within the boundary of the said premises and not encroach into any opening of any occupied buildings.”

Although there appeared to be some confusion by the Respondent between the questions of design and compliance, this did not detract from the fact that the installation at the premises and the methodology adopted by the Appellant “…was contrary to the overarching issue of public safety in dealing with a highly flammable substance.”

There was a history of complaints from adjoining properties regarding the petroleum-dispensing methodology and the petroleum installation itself.


The Tribunal could not find any basis to hold that the decision under appeal made by the Respondent was made in error of law, whether on the basis asserted by the Appellant, namely, that her petroleum licence had been renewed each year between 2012 and 2018, or at all; on the contrary, the said decision was entirely lawful.

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