AXA is taking advantage of continuing uncertainty over the future planning regulations that will apply to buildings damaged by the explosion at the Buncefield oil depot.

The insurer is offering early cash settlements to commercial victims of the disaster and in some cases taking ownership of the buildings in anticipation that planning authorities will allow limited rebuilding on the site.

Some commercial policyholders expect no rebuilding at all.

AXA claims director David Williams said: "We are still waiting for the final planning report to be published, but we have been assessing what the potential outcomes could be and are looking to make alternative offers."

The insurer said early settlements would help to control its £46m exposure to claims from Buncefield.

Insurers hope some losses will be recouped from Buncefield site owners Total and Texaco, which AXA, together with Norwich Union (NU), is suing to recover losses.

NU said the site owners, and defendants in the liability suit, had stalled talks until the planning report is published. Property claims manager for NU, Paul Reddington said: "They are not willing to talk about liability. All minds seem to be focused on the end of October when Master Turner re-convenes the group litigation body. But we believe there is enough in the recent reports to show that they were liable for the fire."