Villagers against an energy plant near their homes have protested at the start of hearings which will determine the fate of the controversial scheme. 

The protest was staged at the start of a public inquiry over the anaerobic digester plant at Deal Farm in Bressingham, near Diss.

The nine-day inquiry, in the Horizon Centre at Broadland Business Park, was triggered after South Norfolk councillors turned down permission for the plant.

Deal Farm Biogas (DFB) appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, saying South Norfolk’s planning committee acted wrongly in rejecting the plans.

The digester - which uses organic waste and crops to create biomethane that can be used to produce power – has been partly built on land off Kenninghall Road.

When development started in 2018, neighbours argued it was far larger than plans the council had previously approved in 2015.

The energy plant at Deal Farm in BressinghamThe energy plant at Deal Farm in Bressingham (Image: Archant)

The company was then forced to submit a fresh application - which was turned down by the council's planning committee in 2022.

Among the reasons for rejection, was that the scheme was a danger to road users, because of the number of large lorries it would bring to roads.

But, at the inquiry, Sasha White, KC, on behalf of DFB, said national government policy encouraged such schemes to reach Net Zero targets and tackle the “existential crisis” of climate change.

He said: “This development is exactly the sort of development the government wants to see coming forward.”

He said it would be “impossible” for there to be no impact on the countryside and roads, but the effects were not enough to justify the scheme’s rejection.

But Victoria Hutton, on behalf of South Norfolk Council, said it would have a “discordant” impact on the countryside.

And she said: “The true traffic generation is significantly higher than the appellant argues for.”

She said nearby roads were “wholly unsuitable” and were barely wide enough for two cars to pass, “let alone a car and an HGV”.

James Easter, South Norfolk councillorJames Easter, South Norfolk councillor (Image: South Norfolk Council)

South Norfolk councillor James Easter, who represents Bressingham and Burston, said: “The biggest problem with this, is that it is in the wrong place.

”Had it been on a major route, where access could be easily made, we would not be here today.”

Objector Tom Williamson said the developers had shown a “complete disregard for residents”.

Bressingham villager Geoff Lazell told the hearing that the application was “entirely without merit”.

He said the “cynical” developers had tried to “game” the planning system, while treating residents with “contempt”.

Objector Christine Murton said the construction of the “unauthorised” power plant had stirred up passions.

She said the community was angered by “obvious attempts to pull the wool over the council’s eyes”.

She said the council was right to reject the plans because extra traffic would be “a danger to human lives”.

The inquiry will hold further hearings before closing submissions on Monday, July 22.

Planning inspector Diane Lewis said the inquiry will focus on four key areas:

The plant’s effect on the function and safety of the highways network.

Its effect on the landscape and character on the area and countryside.

The effect on the amenity of the community.

The scheme’s contribution to the generation of sustainable, electrical energy.

The Horizon Centre, where the inquiry is taking placeThe Horizon Centre, where the inquiry is taking place (Image: Copypright Mike Page, All Rights ReservedBefore any use is made of this picture, including dispaly, publication, broadcast, syn)

The inspector will then make a recommendation on whether or not it should be granted permission.

In addition to the appeal, DFB also submitted an entirely new application for the site last year, which will come before councillors in due course.

Adrian Ramsay, Green general election candidate for Waveney Valley, was among those who took part in the protest.