Published: 15:18, 17 September 2021
| Updated: 16:20, 17 September 2021
A family forced to take sanctuary in a McDonald's from a strong smell permeating their home are one of several to have lodged complaints.
People in Snodland believe odours are coming from the nearby Tarmac Asphalt Plant, in Hays Road.
Several neighbours have already changed their lifestyle due to the stench – from keeping windows shut and buying dehumidifiers to even moving out of town.
The firm, however, insists many of the qualms have originated on days when the plant was not operating.
A resident, who asked only to be identified as Richard, has lived in Snodland for many years and is now tired of waiting for a solution after so many complaints to Tarmac and Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council (TMBC).
The 49-year-old chemical engineer had to leave his home more than 15 times to go to the nearest McDonald’s for breakfast as he and his family ‘could not physically stand the smell’.
He said: “The last two years have been significantly worse. It’s in your children's hair, it's in their bed clothes.
“I don't want to have to leave my home before seven o'clock in the morning to take my children to McDonald's for breakfast, because the smells from the plant are that strong and overpowering my cornflakes.”
Unfortunately, due to the strong bitumen stench, Richard has decided to sell his home and move 150 miles away from Snodland.
He said: “This should have been our forever home but thanks to this it's not going to be. I spent more than £50,000 doing up my home and now we have to let it go.
“I need to consider my wife’s health. She has bronchiectasis and these fumes have really impacted her health.”
Christian Everett has been a Snodland resident for more than 10 years. He has been raising his concerns to the asphalt company and TMBC for a long time.
The guitar instructor said the smell is usually strong around 5.30 in the morning, which wakes him up almost every day. The smell can then dissipate throughout the day depending on where the wind blows. However, once the smell enters his home, it lingers for quite a while.
He added: “As each day goes past, it’s like it’s getting worse and worse. You can’t have your windows open because it lingers inside your home. I got a dehumidifier and fans in the bathroom and kitchen 24/7 to try to get the smell out.
“I’m scared of what might be in that smell. Even if you like the smell of Tarmac, which I can't imagine anybody would, you're still breathing in volatile chemical compounds. Some people don't really understand the true effects of it.”
Paul Taylor, from Holborough Lakes, has also lived in Snodland for more than a decade. But the 44-year-old, an operations manager at a construction firm, is quite used to the smell.
He said: "Every morning, depending on wind direction, you smell either Tarmac or sewage. I don’t think anything can be done. These corporations are too big and residents just have to get used to it."
MP for Chatham and Aylesford, Tracey Crouch says her postbag is fuller than normal with concerns about both the stench and noise, which prompted her to meet with the company to find a solution.
She said: “What encouraged me to seek further meetings with Tarmac over the summer was just the number of complaints that I was getting compared to normal.
“Usually, you always get one or two over the course of three or four months but we were getting more than that.”
Tarmac unit manager Sam Turner said in a letter published by MP Tracey Crouch that complaints over noise and smell have been filed at times when the plant was either not operating or closed. He also clarified in the letter that the plume coming from the stack – which was a source of concern to residents – is only steam from the manufacturing process.
A spokesman for the firm said: “We are aware of the concerns that have been raised by local residents and we take them very seriously.
“The asphalt plant operates under strict planning conditions that dictate the permitted noise levels at the site.
“Our noise monitoring reports show that the site is consistently below the permitted levels.
“There have been no changes to our operations to affect the smell of asphalt coming from the plant.
“However, we appreciate residents’ concerns and are continuing our investigations into this matter.
“The health, safety and environmental impact on our site staff and local community is our number one priority, so we will continue to work with residents to resolve these concerns.”
Richard queried Tarmac’s statements.
He said: “I'm a qualified chemical engineer. So I'd like to think that I've got a sense of understanding and responsibility. And I kept hearing from Tarmac that it’s only sewage that I’m smelling and that the plume is only steam.
“Don’t tell me what I’m smelling. I can certainly know the difference between the smell of Tarmac and the smell of sewage.
“As a chemical engineer, I understand that the factory dissipates steam out of the stack. Okay. But the steam does not smell. The smell comes from the final product that Tarmac produce, which has bitumen that goes on the road.”
TMBC is also investigating and said it had received 22 complaints.
Residents were asked to keep a diary log of times and dates the odour affected them but the council was not able to pinpoint exactly where it was coming from using the records.
The residents’ logs were also submitted to Tarmac’s site manager for comparison to the factory’s production logs.
TMBC agreed that many of the noise and smell complaints were logged at times the plant was closed or not operational.
After intervention from Cllr David Lettington (Con), who represents Snodland West and Holborough Lakes on TMBC, the council is now considering hiring consultants to conduct constant monitoring of the site to investigate the problem.
Cllr Lettington said he had been receiving a lot of complaints recently, which have coincided with Tarmac putting in a planning application to extend its working hours overnight. The factory currently operates between 5am and 3pm.
He approached the council’s environmental health team about the application, which Tarmac has since withdrawn.
He hopes the monitoring will help the council to judge whether it needs to intervene with statutory measures over the factory's operations.
Cllr Lettington said: “It is a very frustrating situation because although Tarmac is an integral part of the town, there is an issue which is affecting people's lives on an ongoing basis.
“We don't want that to continue. We want to be able to rectify it and get the situation back to the way it's been previously."
Mr Everett and Richard both believe the ideal outcome would be relocating the factory out of a residential area.