RESIDENTS of a small village have criticised plans to create new orchards by dumping large quantities of soil on the Somerset Levels.

Bristol Group Ltd. has applied to plant new orchards on land north of Elm Tree Farm on Southwick Road, between Highbridge and Mark, by raising two agricultural field near a solar farm.

The applicant has argued the orchards will provide fruit and veg for vulnerable people through local food banks and give “holistic support” for people with dementia and learning difficulties, as well as improving the biodiversity of the local area.

But Mark residents have branded the plans as “a landfill for construction waste” and say it will lead to huge numbers of HGVs rumbling through their village.

The plans concern two fields within the Elm Tree Farm curtilage, bordered to the east by the Yardwall Lane solar farm at the edge of Mark.

The fields will be raised by approximately three metres to prevent localised flooding, with thousands of tonnes of soil being imported and an orchard being planted on the raised area.

The site will also be planted with native trees and shrubs, with two pergolas being provided for shade, beehives being place around the site and a grass-mown path around the perimeter being put in place to ease access.

A spokesman for Directive Planning Ltd. (representing the applicant) said: “The planting of orchards will result in fruit being grown within the site, which will be donated to various charitable Welsh food banks to provide Weston-Super-Mare, Bridgwater and the local community with fresh fruit and veg.

“In Wales alone, it is estimated that approximately 50,000 people are currently living with dementia, with the number looking to grow in the coming years.

“The proposed development will assist dementia charities, retirement homes, hospital wards, special needs schools and other establishments by helping those who are elderly, physically challenged and impoverished to pick fruit from the orchard in small groups, and to enjoy the surroundings as a method of providing amenity to these individuals while providing more holistic support.

“The proposed development to replace the low-quality arable fields would have no significant or adverse impact on the landscape, character or appearance of the area.”

Numerous Mark residents have made the views on the plans clear, both on Somerset Council’s official planning portal and the ‘Mark Village Life’ Facebook page.

Dave Sharp, who lives on the B3139 The Causeway, said: “Let’s be clear what this looks like: a landfill for construction waste.

“Given that the applicants are listed on the Companies House website as a construction holding company, I doubt their motives are entirely charitable.

“With the biggest trucks at a maximum of 30 tonnes a load, this is at least 6000 loads, but will probably be considerably more.

“Not only will the traffic be an issue, there will also be a lot of noise and dust from the activities on site – tipping, profiling and compacting.

“Looking on the bright side, you may be able to ditch your alarm clock.”

Charles Larkin, who lives near the site, said: “There is no need to raise the land to create the orchard when trees will grow at the existing levels.

“Where will the excess displaced water from the fields go? Raising the land level in one area creates extra pressure elsewhere.

“Food banks do not accept donations of fresh fruit and vegetables; they accept donations of dried, non-perishable foods.”

Mark Parish Council has also formally objected, with parish clerk Richard Young stating that there was “considerable concern that the raising of a large area of land by three metres will adversely affect drainage in the area.”

The council is expected to make a decision on the plans by the end of the year.