Plans for a new church in south Reading will be decided on by the Secretary of State (SoS), after government agency warnings of a risk of death were dismissed by councillors.

Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) planning committee approved the application at 448a Basingstoke Road for a second time, unconvinced about the increased risk of the development.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) raised concerns about a potential boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion at the neighbouring Gillette UK headquarters.

Ward councillor and scientist Emmett McKenna, said the chance of such as explosion was minimal: one in 20,000 years.

He said: “I am aware of the risk. It is vanishingly small. Sites get safer and safer by design.”

The application was approved by eight votes to three, triggering the involvement of the SoS for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Conservative councillor Ed Hopper, who voted against, said: “I cannot get past the possibility of a massive explosion and 400 people right next to it; children, adults and elderly people.”

It is only the eighth development to be called in by the HSE in the last 35 years, out of around 105,000 planning applications.

Stuart Reston, HSE’s principal specialist inspector, said the case was very serious for the government agency, which rarely requests to address planning committees.

He said a major accident would likely lead to all occupants of the proposed Reading Family Church being killed.

The Gillette site is subject to the Controls of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015, largely due to its five large LPG tanks.

The proposed church is wholly within the HSE’s most hazardous ‘inner zone’; anyone in the building would be killed in the event of a worst-case scenario fire and subsequent thermal radiation.

Mr Reston said the agency would not advise against a lowly populated manufacturing workplace at the site.

Councillor Tony Page, lead member for Planning, said: “The HSE seems to be in a position where it can define people as more vulnerable than someone else.

“I find that perverse and illogical. A human life is a human life.”

Reading Family Church’s application was initially approved by the planning committee on September 5.

The HSE, unconvinced that planning committee members ‘fully understood the seriousness of HSE’s advice’, advised a second hearing, and later stated that they would call in the case if the committee approved the application a second time.