Action pledged on mystery West Norfolk smell, as investigation continues

British Sugar's Wissington sugar beet factory near Stoke Ferry.
British Sugar's Wissington sugar beet factory near Stoke Ferry.

British Sugar bosses have vowed to act if their operation is found to be the cause of the mystery smell blighting communities in West Norfolk.

Specialist scientists have been brought in a bid to pinpoint the cause of the odour, which has triggered scores of complaints across the borough, and beyond, in recent weeks.

But Colm McKay, the company’s agricultural director, told last night’s Stoke Ferry parish council meeting they did not believe their Wissington plant was the source.

He said people who had visited the site after making complaints had either not been able to say whether the smell was the same as the one they had experienced or had insisted it was different.

However, he added: “We try to be good neighbours and we take concerns about this very, very seriously.

“If, at the end of this, the conclusion is our operation is contributing to the concern, we will do everything in our power to control that.

“The sooner we get to the cause of it, the better, for everyone.”

Mark Whitmore, principal environmental health officer for West Norfolk Council, revealed the authority had so far received 37 complaints about the smell, while the neighbouring Fenland council also had a similar number.

He said there had been no fresh complaints for more than two weeks, though that prompted residents to report noticing odours in both West Dereham and Crimplesham on Wednesday.

And he admitted it was likely to be a long process to solve the mystery, adding: “I can’t promise you any quick fixes.”

Borough councillor Colin Sampson said the issue had also generated his highest level of correspondence since the Lynn incinerator controversy.

He said residents had reported the smell in Upwell and Feltwell, around 20 miles apart, at the same time.

The smell has previously been compared to cannabis and linked to the Wissington factory because it is growing a form of the plant that is used in prescription medicines to treat rare forms of epilepsy in young children.

Mr McKay stressed there was no psychoactive effect associated with the plant the company is growing at Wissington.

But the meeting also heard several alternative theories about the cause, as well as claims bad smells were also experienced last summer.

Mr Whitmore said a better description was needed to help find the cause of the problem and diary sheets have been given to residents who have complained to see if any patterns can be drawn from when it is noticed.

He added that he had also asked the National Farmers Union to consult its members on whether any new products were being used that may give off an unpleasant smell.

Anyone who wishes to make a complaint about the issue is asked to contact the borough council on 01553 616200.