Controversial plans to build a McDonald's drive-thru and service station in Runcorn are in limbo after health and safety chiefs said they may yet refer them to Michael Gove.

Halton Council's development management committee on Monday voted to rubber-stamp an application by Impero Development Management for the drive-thru, filling station and convenience store on land off Rocksavage Roundabout known as The Woodyard. The site lies between the A557 Weston Point Expressway and Weaver View in Runcorn, adjacent to Junction 12 of the M56.

But the plans had proven controversial, with concerns being raised by ward councillor Margaret Ratcliffe. An objection was also lodged by SABIC UK Petrochemicals over proximity to a major trans-Pennine pipeline which transports ethylene – which is highly flammable and explosive – from its facility in Wilton, Teeside, to Runcorn.

The national Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also objected, it said an  assessment indicated that the 'risk of harm' to people at the proposed development site was such that HSE’s advice was there were not 'sufficient reasons on safety grounds, for advising against the granting of planning permission in this case'.

Project bosses said the scheme would deliver 145 jobs, and officers at the council had recommended the committee back it, stating that it was not considered that the safety advice of the HSE 'outweighed the proposal’s policy compliance and the benefits that would result'.

The committee followed officers' advice and voted to approve, but the HSE - the UK public body responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare - said it may refer the application to secretary of state Michael Gove, who would then have the final word.

The HSE is statutory consultee for certain proposed developments within the vicinity of major hazard installations and major accident hazard pipelines.

HSE principal specialist inspector Stuart Reston, said: "We have been notified by Halton Borough Council of its intention to grant planning permission against our advice for this development.

"We have now started an internal assessment process and will decide whether to request the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities to call-in the application for their own determination."

The HSE now has just under two weeks to decide and a referral would only be made in cases of 'exceptional concern'.