Hessenford is a normally quiet village in the heart of south east Cornwall. You may have passed through it on the way to beaches at Seaton or Downderry, or popped into its historic Copley Arms for a meal and a pint.

It’s been going about its picturesque business for over 700 years, but lately there’s been a bit of a stink. Its residents are up in arms about plans which they fear will actually cause a bit of a stink as well as increase the risk of flooding and create an eyesore on one of the few green sites in the village.

South West Water (SWW) has submitted a planning application with Cornwall Council for a new pumping station and sewage treatment works in a field in the centre of Hessenford, next to houses which currently have their own septic tanks. The proposal also includes a new road with access during construction from the A387, which runs through the village.

The plans state: “The existing private systems have been identified as a source of sewage pollution to the River Seaton and that this in turn may affect bathing water quality at Seaton. The new sewerage system is essential for the residents of Hessenford and the local public house to enable them to connect to a public sewer network and cease use of any private sewage disposal systems that are currently in place.

“It is in the public interest that the scheme is implemented to improve the environmental situation in the locality and stop the source of sewage pollution to the River Seaton which is affecting the bathing water quality at Seaton Beach.”

However, a number of residents poo-poo the idea they are to blame and say there is no evidence of the village causing any pollution. In fact, they say they have asked SWW and the Environment Agency for test results and evidence but none has been forthcoming.

Some of those objecting met us at the site of the proposed works this week to air their concerns. This is by no means a retirement village, there are a number of young families living here and they are worried.

Lauren Forbes said: “Hessenford is a small village that lies within a conservation area and the village’s character and nature are determined by the views most properties have of the field in which this plant is to be constructed, which at the moment is a haven for wildlife and natural growth.”

Hers is one of 37 properties, of around 50 in total in Hessenford, affected by the plan.

She said: “We are a young family whose property backs on to the proposed site. Our children regularly play outside in our garden which will not be possible if the planned sewage works and pumping station are built. Hessenford is a low lying village where any odours emitted from the site will linger in the valley.

“My children will not be able to play in our own garden if there are foul smells and possible bacteria from the sewage plant. They also often use the village hall garden to play on, which is the only green space in the village for children to use. Not only will this be affected by smells emitted but it is going to be hugely affected by the construction and is part of the planned site.”

Like many in the village, she is angry at a “consistent lack of consultation and recognition of local residents’ feedback and concerns”.

The pumping station will be situated around ten metres from Alison Pengelly’s garden fence.

She said: “There will be a four-metre high vent as well as a kiosk. No matter what surveys have been carried out, there is no doubt that with low cloud and misty wet days, smell will find its way into my garden and even possibly into the property due to the nature of being in a low valley.

“The river is considerably long, beginning on the moors beyond Liskeard. It seems incredible that it’s only Hessenford causing a problem. Has SWW done their own research and what were the findings? We have never formally been informed.”

A number of locals have pointed out – and commented on Cornwall Council’s planning portal – that Menheniot sewage treatment works, which is several kilometres upstream, had 60 recorded spills from its storm overflow last year into tributaries of the River Seaton. They argue that at an average of over one spill a week, any contamination is potentially from this source.

Residents are also concerned about the possibility of flooding in a village which is already prone to it. The main street floods every year but the last serious incident was in 2013 when properties were damaged and the village hall needed to replace its wooden floorboards which were ruined.

Steve Mayor, another neighbour of the proposed treatment works site, added: “The three houses which are closest to the river have to ensure that the storm drains located in the road outside our homes are kept free from detritus. We clear away leaves, stones, grit, branches and anything else that may blow into them.

“We have been out during heavy rainfall just to clear the drains as they fill up, otherwise the rain flows over the top of them, along the path outside our row and can gush into our home. I have video recordings of this actually happening. This is why we are so very concerned that this project may cause further flooding issues.”

Lauren added: “We feel more testing further up the river needs to be undertaken as there has been no evidence presented that there isn’t pollution in the river before Hessenford. Also, as the Local Flood Authority has pointed out in their comment, the design has been based on outdated guidance. Due to Hessenford being a high flood risk area, more evidence needs to be presented that the construction of the sewage plant and pumping station is not going to pose a risk to possible flooding of the village.”

A South West Water spokesperson said: “We are planning to build a public sewerage system in the village of Hessenford, Cornwall. This is to stop pollution getting from private septic tanks into the local watercourse. The planning application for this work has been submitted and awaits approval from the planning authority.”