In the framework of the Europe and Central Asia Housing Forum held in Geneva from 22 to 24 April 2013, experts from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents and the UNECE Committee on Housing and Land Management co-organized a thematic session on land-use planning and industrial safety to discuss approaches to preventing risks from industrial sites to housing and land. The importance of addressing such issues is underscored by the most recent industrial accident to hit the headlines — the explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas, United States, that killed 14 people, injured some 200 others and destroyed over 50 houses, fire and emergency vehicles.
Participants in the seminar concluded that the integration of safety aspects into land-use planning is still quite a burning issue in most UNECE member States. This is mainly because of the numerous stakeholders and often conflicting interests involved. Awareness on this issue has been created only recently, even in clearly industrialized countries in Western Europe and North America. There is also a need to formulate international guidelines on safety and land-use planning. Although progress has been made to collect existing practices – such as through the European Union “Overview of Roadmaps for Land-Use Planning in Selected Member States” – there is as yet no definite guidance for countries to follow. In practice, this leads to a lack of communication and cooperation between safety experts, planners and the main stakeholders in the countries. The negative effects on the neighbouring areas in case of an accident at a hazardous installation could be disastrous as the Texas accident showed, in particular if schools or residential areas have been built too close.
The seminar agreed that greater awareness on the need for coordination, cooperation and consultation among land-use planners and safety experts at all levels, in particular at the local level, needs to be created within countries. It was also suggested that such dialogue and cooperation be mandated in legislation and not left to the discretion of the various actors. This could be carried out through capacity-building workshops or the development of guidance to assist stakeholders. It was also agreed that consultation between countries should be strengthened in case of possible transboundary effects of accidents at industrial installations.
Further information on the thematic session on land-use planning and industrial safety is available from http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=31624.
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The 1992 UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents is designed to protect people and the environment against industrial accidents. The Convention aims at preventing accidents from occurring, reducing their frequency and severity and mitigating their effects if they do occur. To date, there are 40 Parties to the Convention, which include, besides the European Union and 25 of its 27 member States (Ireland and Malta are not Parties): Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Serbia, Switzerland and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In 2004, the Convention’s Conference of the Parties adopted an Assistance Programme to support the countries from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia and South-Eastern Europe in implementing the Convention.
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