Residents have been complaining about a foul smell coming from a landfill site between Darlington and Newton Aycliffe for six months. Tom Burgess visited Brafferton, one of the worst affected villages, to talk to residents about what life has been like living with the noxious odour.

A sunny Saturday afternoon. Most families across the North East are getting their picnic blankets out, firing up a barbeque, cracking open some drinks or watching the children tearing around with water pistols.

A year ago that would have been what the villagers of Brafferton would be doing as well. Sadly, those carefree days have been replaced with a permanent sense of trepidation about when the disgusting smell will return. Hundreds of residents in this village on the outskirts of Darlington have forgotten what normal life was like.

I arrive in Brafferton at midday on one of the hottest days of the year so far, my air conditioning is blasting and I'm not sure how many people will want to talk to me about their experiences with the notorious smell.

Before arriving, I had already had extensive chats with Stuart Hodgson and a couple of fellow residents about how much the stench had changed their lives.

The reports of rashes, sore eyes and recurring headaches were immediately horrifying. I had to visit to try to talk to as many people as I could about their experiences.

Stuart greets me almost as soon as I get out of my car and he slips into a tirade about the lack of support the village has had from Darlington Borough Council and local MPs.

He explains that the villagers feel forgotten.

"When John Wade was running the site we might have smelt something maybe two or three times a year but it’s all the time now," he tells me.

"It's been half a year and we've all reported it to the Environment Agency, the council, Paul Howell (Sedgefield MP).

"Nobody does anything. They have been useless."


Stuart says he recently invited his family around for a barbeque while the weather was nice but almost as soon as people arrived so did the awful smell.

The Northern Echo: Stuart Hodgson

His guests had to leave early. Unfortunately, for villagers in Brafferton they can't just leave. They are forced to keep their doors and windows shut to try to keep the odour out of their houses.

Stuart's frustration had slowly turned into anger as the months passed by and nobody listened. He tells me his wife has been experiencing bad rashes and he has a tickly cough which will not go away.

At night when he is out doing jobs in the garden he comes back in with sore eyes.

I leave Stuart hoping that I won't hear similar stories around the rest of the village - but sadly, I am wrong.

As I make my way around the village talking to the families who are home, I meet one mother who explains that her teenage children are worried that the smell is being carried with them to school. 

During exam season the last thing she wants is for her son and daughter to be anxious about smelling horrible. Yet again I am told that the people of Brafferton feel powerless.

Claire Walton, a registered nurse, summarises the feeling of the community when she says that they "shouldn't have to put up with this". She has not experienced any rashes or headaches but she says that even without the worrying health issues it is still unacceptable.

On my lap of the village I notice that people living in houses further away from the landfill site tend not to have had such bad experiences. But worry over the long-term health implications impacts everybody.

The Northern Echo: Brafferton Village

I speak to Linton Creighton, a resident in the village for four years, who explains that every time they get given a date for when it will stop it gets pushed back. He has attended meetings at the village hall and he feels like villagers are all being fobbed off. 

He says: "It makes you feel uneasy and headachy. When it is here you don’t want to go out or into your garden.

"It’s not a nice smell at all. We shut our windows and doors but it lingers for days.

"We keep being told when it will be fixed but it is all rubbish.


"Something has to be going wrong. It’s not right. We didn’t have it when John Wade was running it."

Just a few houses down from him I speak to 66-year-old Tom Ward who feels that he has to stay inside whenever the noxious smell arrives. Stories from others in the village who spend more time outside about how they have been getting headaches and rashes have really worried him.

Talking to Tom makes me realise the psychological impact of never knowing when your day will be ruined. The worry of not understanding what is going wrong or when it will be fixed. 

On my return trip from the bottom end of the village I speak to two different households who explain that the stench can be so bad at night that it wakes them up. 

Rebecca Turner sums it up it best when she says her family has suffered no physical health problems but that it is damaging their mental health.

She says: "We don’t have physical health concerns but we do experience the smell on a regular basis. The smell can be really intolerable.

"What we find is that it’s so strong it wakes you up in the night. From a mental health perspective it is damaging.


"It’s worrying about when it is going to be really strong at night. Lifestyle-wise you worry when friends are coming round it might be really bad."

I leave Brafferton with a sunburnt neck and feeling glad to be back in the shade but it makes me think how bad summer could be for families in the village.

The Environment Agency has confirmed that extraction wells at the Ashcourt landfill site were in the process of being turned on. They hope that the work will be completed by the end today (May 17). 

They state that: "This, together with previous work to cover problem areas of the site, should improve the odour issues."

Paul Howell, Conservative MP for Sedgefield, said: "I have had continual engagement with both Ashcourt Group and the Environment Agency on this issue with the most recent meeting this morning. Once again I expressed my, and my constituents, frustration that this smell is still evident after multiple committed dates have passed. 

"I again raised about the effect on human health from these gases with the Environment Agency. They have assured me that although the gases emitted are very unpleasant to smell, they will have no harmful effect on human health. 

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"Ashcourt are keen to engage with individuals on a one-to-one basis and if anyone has further concerns about how it has affected them personally, I would encourage them to engage with Ashcourt directly or through myself.

"I have also agreed with Ashcourt for me to take a representative group of residents to visit the facility and be shown the work that has taken place and is continuing."

Keeping windows and doors shut in the heat of summer would be nightmarish for the people of Brafferton. We have to hope that this finally will be the solution and life can return to normal for them.

We have approached the Ashcourt Group, which runs the landfill site, but we have not heard back.