A community action group has been launched aiming to bring more volume to the voices of residents concerned about the environment.

Formed of residents in Castletown, part of Penrith, the Castletown Community Action Group (CCAG) is chaired by Penrith Town Council member Jeff Thomson, who was elected on a basis of opposing the practices of the Omega Proteins factory in the town and the so-called ‘Penrith Pong’ alleged to originate from it.

A spokesperson from CCAG said Castletown listed the area’s industrial estates, the Imega Proteins animal rendering plant, and heavy vehicle traffic on the residential B5288 road as some major concerns.

The formation follows a meeting in summer this year attended by over 100 people, and is based on a feeling that the unitary authority – Westmorland and Furness Council – does not listen to the concerns of residents when approving planning application that affect the environment and public health.

Current priorities include making Castletown a 20mph area, road weight restrictions enforced, and odour nuisance being recognised as a public health hazard, according to CCAG.

Cllr Thomson added: “We want to be consulted on these issues.

“I go to planning committees and put in objections, and I am totally ignored, we are just not being consulted.

“No one asked the community if they wanted more helicopter flights over their homes, but it was approved.

“With this group, we will make views known directly, and residents need to know that they have a voice and it will be heard.”

He called the odour issue a public health hazard and mental health issue for many residents, and said that more needs to be done to protect residents by way of holding more public consultation sessions for major planning applications.

One major facet he said caused a lot of applications from Omega Proteins’ parent company Leo Group to go through is that they operate on an Environment Agency permit and not a council one, and the council does not include odour as a public health concern.

Furthermore, he said Westmorland and Furness Council has made it more difficult for the public to know what planning applications are submitted by changing the planning portal, and that if one attempts to find applications, they are met with an error message.

In response, a Leo Group spokesperson said: “It is the Council’s responsibility to undertake public consultation when a planning application is made.

“Normally that involves notifying immediate neighbours. 

“All planning applications are publicly available on the council’s planning portal.

“Residents who wish to comment on a proposal can do so on the portal or by writing to the council.

“There are circumstances in which community consultation is required, explained in the council’s July 2023 planning application validation guidance notes.

“None of the current applications submitted by Omega Proteins required pre-application community consultation to comply with the council’s planning validation requirements.

About the increased pressure on Leo Group following an investigation launched by the Environment Agency into over 100 odour complaints received, Leo Group said: “When visiting our site in early November, representatives from the Environment Agency and its Scottish counterpart SEPA were impressed and very positive about what we have achieved to make this plant a benchmark in our industry for best available techniques, the use of state-of-the-art odour abatement technologies, sustainability, and circular economy.”

A spokesperson from Westmorland and Furness Council said: “Westmorland and Furness Council is committed to being inclusive, collaborative and outcome-focused, working with partners, communities and residents to deliver the best outcomes for all.

“The council has established three locality boards for Eden, Furness and South Lakeland to promote close working with communities and we welcome the formation of this new residents group and look forward to working with them, along with the many other community groups, charities and town and parish councils in Westmorland and Furness.

“Public participation is encouraged at the locality boards, with time dedicated on every agenda for questions or statements from members of the public and petitions.

“The council is committed to fully involving residents in the planning process and being transparent about its decision-making.

“Penrith Town Council has a planning committee which determines what response the town council will make to Westmorland and Furness Council on planning matters in the town and parish.

“Anyone can make a representation for and against a planning application to Westmorland and Furness before it is determined and information about objections and supporting comments are included in committee reports about applications.

“Westmorland and Furness Council also have a public participation scheme to enable any person - including councillors, parish representatives, applicants, objectors and supporters - to seek to address the strategic committee or the three area planning committees in relation to applications on their agendas.  

“The council has the discretion to escalate applications from the three local area planning committees to the strategic planning committee if we feel it is in the public interest to do so. 

“The council's planning portal did experience some short-term technical problems in recent days.

“These have been resolved now and we apologise for any inconvenience.”

A spokesperson from the Environment Agency said: “The Environment Agency is aware of residents’ concerns about odour from the Omega Proteins factory at Penrith.

“We continue to visit the site on a regular basis to ensure that strict permit conditions are met, and we are working with the operator to ensure improvements to odour control are implemented.

“Residents can report environmental incidents to us on 0800 80 70 60.”