Objectors to a proposed incinerator in Consett have told a public inquiry it would be a "blight" on their landscape.

A public inquiry has opened into the proposal for an "energy from waste facility" at Hownsgill Industrial Estate, Consett, processing up to 60,000 tonnes of fuel from commercial and industrial waste per year.

If approved, it would operate 24 hours a day with a 50m chimney stack from the 1.64-hectare site which used to be part of the former Consett Steel Works.

Developer Project Genesis is appealing against Durham County Council's refusal of planning permission for the scheme last September.

Read more: Controversial £35m Consett incinerator plans REJECTED by councillors

Government-appointed inspector Stephen Normington heard opening statements as the 12-day inquiry opened at Durham's County Hall on Tuesday (August 9).

Christine Thomas, chair of the Say No To Consett Incinerator Community Campaign Group, said the town had become a "secret gem, a beautiful place to live" which had put its industrial past behind it.

She said: "Unfortunately, this fabulous return to Consett’s natural beauty is now under threat.

"The new concept of Project Genesis for the re-industrialisation for Consett ​is ​to burn industrial waste from a 50m chimney, metres from the centre of town and generate only nine jobs.

"Why would anyone want the remnants and particles of industrial waste soiling the air and contaminating the town​? ​Who would have such a dream for their town? ​Who would want a 50m chimney as a blight on this fabulous landscape?

"If this appeal is successful the balance will tip for the financial benefit of the few with none for the area.

"This is about an incinerator being forced on a town by a privileged few who have been deaf to the voice of the people of the town."

Read more: Call to drop appeal for controversial incinerator in Consett

She said homeowners had been "oblivious" to the plans: "These residents now face the prospect of having an incinerator as their neighbour.

"For some residents, this is 350 metres from their houses. Houses they bought in good faith. Houses they would not have bought, if they had known this was the plan for Hownsgill Park."

John Barrett, representing Durham County Council, said the plan was refused because it would harm the special qualities of the nearby North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), the character and quality of the landscape, and the heritage asset of the Grade II listed 18th-century High Knitsley Farmhouse.

He said it would not conserve or enhance the special qualities of the landscape in an area of higher landscape value.

He argued the visual impact of the development, "especially the 50m stack and emissions plume", would be harmful to the "scenic beauty and unspoiled landscape", bringing "new urban/industrial elements into a currently rural view".

He added: "The council maintain that harm to both designated and non-designated landscapes and to heritage assets is unacceptable and is not outweighed by the identified benefits associated with the development."

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Andrew Tabachnik QC, representing Project Genesis, said the scheme would "deliver a substantial array of weighty planning benefits", providing much-needed waste management resources.

He said it would generate heat and electricity with proposed "minimum 10% discounts for local users, likely to be a welcome and attractive incentive for all", and a fund of about £120,000 per year to ease fuel poverty, predicting a saving of more than 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

He said the £45m construction investment in the area would probably be a catalyst for more employment at the industrial park, creating more jobs and contributing to regeneration.

He told the inquiry: "The council should be encouraging and welcoming with open arms advantageous schemes such as the appeal scheme.

"Instead, it declines to take a realistic view as to the weight of public benefits the scheme would bring.

"It is disputed that there is any harm to the scenic beauty of the AONB, or any impact on other landscape/visual interests which comes anywhere close to outweighing the significant cumulative benefits."

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