Agenda item

To formally report the receipt of an e-petition submitted requesting that Tendring District Council carries out a further investigation into the phenomenon of the ‘Brightlingsea Stench’.




(a)    Mr. Court be thanked for his e-petition; and


(b)   the Environment Portfolio Holder’s written comments regarding the e-petition be endorsed as Cabinet’s formal response to Mr. Court’s e-petition.


Earlier on in the meeting, as reported under Minute 30 above, Councillor Barry had stated for the public record that he was a member of Brightlingsea Town Council.


Cabinet was informed that an e-petition submitted by Matthew Court, as lead petitioner, had been received on 31 August 2023. The e-petition had been active in the period from 1 August to 31 August 2023 and had been validly signed by 110 persons. It stated:-


“We the undersigned petition the Council to:-


   Immediately reopen the investigation into the persistent stench issue in Brightlingsea.

   Engage external environmental experts, if necessary, to support and expedite the investigation into the source and nature of the problem.

   Provide regular, transparent updates to the public on the progress of the investigation, findings, proposed solutions, and expected timelines.

   Actively coordinate with the Environment Agency and any other relevant authorities to advocate for the needs of Brightlingsea residents and seek their intervention if required.

     Implement temporary measures to mitigate the impact of the stench on the residents of Brightlingsea while a long-term solution is being found.

   Form a community task force, including residents, council members, and experts, to ensure direct community participation in the ongoing efforts to resolve this issue.

   Carry out a comprehensive assessment to understand the potential health impacts of the stench on Brightlingsea's residents.”


The petitioners’ stated justification for this e-petition was that:-


“The persistent stench that has plagued the residents of Brightlingsea for over a year is more than just a nuisance; it's a matter of public health, well-being, and the quality of life for every person living and working in the affected area, including the school which has its main playing field nearby. It has turned what should be a pleasant environment into a place where people cannot even open their windows or spend time outside without discomfort.


The initial investigation by Tendring District Council was a step in the right direction, but the premature closure of the investigation without finding a source or solution is deeply disappointing and frankly, unacceptable. This decision gives the impression of a council that is either unable or unwilling to fully address the problem, which is a disservice to the people it is supposed to represent and protect.


This e-Petition is not just about the stench; it's about the role of Tendring District Council and councillors as our elected representatives. It's about how we, as a community, expect our concerns to be addressed, our voices to be heard, and our wellbeing to be prioritised. The actions listed in this petition reflect those expectations.


We understand that finding a solution may not be easy or immediate, but we insist that the council take these necessary steps, engage with the necessary bodies, utilise all available resources, and provide the leadership and representation that Brightlingsea needs and deserves. We look forward to seeing a renewed effort from the Council in tackling this ongoing issue and restoring the quality of life in this part of our beloved town.”


Members were reminded that pollution and environmental health was an executive function and that therefore the Cabinet was the appropriate body to consider this matter.


It was reported that, in accordance with the Council’s adopted Scheme for Dealing with Petitions, the receipt of this E-Petition had been reported, for Members’ information, to the meeting of the Full Council held on 26 September 2023. This matter had now been investigated and a report prepared and presented to the Cabinet on the basis that the Petition contained between 30 and 500 signatures.


The Assistant Director (Housing & Environment)’s written advice and assessment of the Petition was as follows:-


“The Council has an ongoing investigation into complaints about unpleasant odour in Brightlingsea, most recently during the course of this Summer. Most of the reports received have been anecdotal with limited evidence provided as to where and when the odour is experienced and the impact it has on residents. Since the end of June 2023 there have been 12 individual complainants of which six provided their addresses in the area. None of these complainants have yet returned witness report diaries for consideration. There is not therefore any documented evidence as to the impact the odour is having on local residents.


The Council assesses odour complaints under the statutory nuisance regime set out in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and so far it has not been possible for officers to witness an odour sufficiently strong and durable as to constitute a statutory nuisance.


The Council has been in correspondence with the Environment Agency (EA) over the matter, especially as they are the regulator for parts of a waste processing site in the Town that has the greatest potential to give rise to the type of odour that is being complained about. All waste processing activities on that site are being undertaken in accordance with their permits that put in place controls around emissions arising as a consequence of the processing activity.


Regular updates have been provided to the Town Council and officers have spent many hours following up reports and making random visits to the area, often out of hours, in an effort to witness the problem.


There is not currently any evidence that anyone has suffered any ill health as a result of the odour and as yet officers have yet to witness the odour or receive documented evidence of when it occurs and who it affects. Investigations will continue but it should be highlighted that even if a definitive source is found this alone may not be enough to justify further statutory action beyond advice and guidance.”


In addition, Cabinet had before it the following comments submitted by the Environment Portfolio Holder:-


“This is a matter I have taken a personal interest in. I have visited the area twice, once with officers and representatives from Brightlingsea Town Council and a second time to meet with residents.


I have therefore witnessed first-hand the detailed and committed work our officers have put into trying to witness and locate the source of the odour. I have also heard from residents about how it affects them. I have experienced an odour very near to the waste processing site that I felt was to be expected given the nature of the activities undertaken on the site. Knowing that activities on the site are regulated both by the EA and the Council gives me reassurance. The odour I experienced was not one so strong or persistent that it could be experienced further away from that site.


As our Assistant Director has said, activities on the site are subject to environmental controls. The Council has been in correspondence with the EA and all activities are being undertaken in accordance with permit conditions that have been monitored and recorded, which include assessments as to whether odour is being generated. Should residents be able to furnish officers with witness report diaries evidencing the dates and times they are affected by the odour these will of course be followed up.”


Matthew Court, the lead petitioner, had been invited to attend the meeting and to address the Cabinet to outline the reasons for the submission of the e-petition and what action they would like the Council to take. Mr. Court attended the meeting and duly put forward the reasons for the submission of the e-petition and outlined the action that they wanted the Council to take.


With the permission of the Leader of the Council, Councillor Chapman BEM, Leader of the Independent Group and a Ward Member and Town Councillor for Brightlingsea, read out the following statement:-


“Thank you for the opportunity to speak and thank you to [Town] Councillor Court for bring this petition to Cabinet today. I do have to stress that I live there. My back garden backs onto this industrial estate so I am just highlighting that.


Brightlingsea Ward Councillors have been active in responding to residents’ concerns and representations on the issue of the odour being experienced around various locations in Brightlingsea.


The matter came to prominence in August 2022 when there was a huge increase in reports being received by the Environment Agency (EA) about an odour being attributed to the Dunmow waste transfer and recycling site in Morses Lane.


Councillor Barry, as the then Mayor, took the lead to organise meetings of all agencies involved at the time with a meeting in the parish hall. He initiated ongoing liaison with the EA, Dunmow management and residents and report back to the Town Council on developments.


Despite a number of site visits and follow ups the EA stated that there was no direct evidence confirming the source of the odour and therefore could not propose any potential control measures. An issue that became apparent was that it was difficult for investigators to witness odour incidents that were generally episodic and short lived, with differential levels of exposure due to changing wind directions.


The level of complaints and reports to agencies diminished over the winter months, although monitoring and regulatory visits continued to be made to the Dunmow site and the EA produced a final briefing note on 29th September 2022.


On 20th June this year the EA received 32 reports of odour and given the nature and extent of the reports informed Essex County Fire & Rescue Service, who attended the area quickly but reported back that they had not been able to identify any odour. This included the use of detection equipment by their Hazardous Materials Officers.


Tendring District Council Environmental Services have been heavily involved since June as is documented in the report before Cabinet. The three Brightlingsea Ward Councillors met with three residents in a meeting chaired by the Town Mayor, Ric Morgan on 3rd August 2023. The outcome of this was an agreement that Councillor Steady would liaise with residents to facilitate information exchanges and continue to update the Town Council and monitor developments. Since the end of June reports of odour have been much reduced with no clear evidence base being identified that locates the source of the odour to a definite reference point to enable remedial measures to be taken. This is the current position and it is clear that Town and Ward Councillors will continue to liaise with residents and relevant agencies to monitor the situation and support residents who continue to be affected by this issue.


As a Town Council, we have written to the supermarket, which is next door, the Colne School and a neighbouring farm. We have spoken to NEEB Holdings who own the industrial estate and they say they have received complaints over the last five years but the last two years the complaints have increased. We have met with some of the businesses and all of the comments that we collated were passed to Graham Steady.”


With the permission of the Leader of the Council, Councillor Steady, a Ward Member and Town Councillor for Brightlingsea, made the following statement:-


“Just an update. As mentioned in the statement, I am liaising with residents and will continue to do so. I have a meeting planned with two residents on Monday to discuss the issue and to keep channels of communication open and transparent. Also, I am looking at an initiative which could help the situation going forward. One thing I have learned from this. There are unexpected coincidences. I understand residents are concerned but the press reports would suggest that the whole of the town is affected by this issue when in actual fact it is not. So once again it will be a big job for the Town and the District to be able to put forward some positive views onb this subject which we hope to do in the future.”


Having duly considered and discussed the Petition and in order to comply with the adopted scheme for dealing with petitions, as set out in the Council’s Constitution:-


It was moved by Councillor Bush, seconded by Councillor M E Stephensonand:-




(a)    Mr. Court be thanked for his e-petition; and


(b)   the Environment Portfolio Holder’s written comments regarding the e-petition be endorsed as Cabinet’s formal response to Mr. Court’s e-petition.

Supporting documents: