Fears of the health effects caused by burning thousands of tonnes of rubbish and that the enormous building needed would “destroy the rural nature” of their area propelled more than a 100 residents of north Swindon to Steam Museum yesterday.

They were there to persuade government planning inspector Melvyn Middleton he should not give permission to developers Rolton Kilbride to build a huge energy from waste plant at the Keypoint industrial estate in South Marston.

The company had been denied permission last year to build the plant by Swindon Borough Council’s planning committee, after which the company’s then-lawyer Anthony Crean QC said he would put the authority through the mincer at any appeal.

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That appeal began yesterday, in a packed Sir Daniel Gooch Theatre at Steam, and so many people turned up there was a delay to find new chairs and a microphone system to help them hear the arguments.

In his opening remarks, the developer’s lawyer Christopher Katkowski QC said: “There is a need for this facility in Swindon. It will save the local authority from sending thousands of tonnes of waste to landfill, and will produce power and heat.

“National waste policies say waste facilities should be placed “as close as practicable” to the area where the waste is collected.”

He told the inquiry that using the railway terminus next door to the site would mean rubbish wouldn’t be brought to the site by lorries.

The Adver reported last week that the company is in talks with London waste company Seneca to ship 50,000 tonnes a year to Swindon to feed the plant.

But local people are against the plan.

Barry Jennings said: “We remember the Marshgate rubbish fire and the fouls-smelling fumes in the area and the toxic particles pushed out.”

Anne Bridgeman said: “Swindon - Swindump. This town has always been the object of ridicule, Mark Haddon the author called it “the are-end of nowhere.” Is this what we want the town to be known for? Oxford has its dreaming spires. Swindon a huge smoking chimney."

A new session has been arranged for members of the public who were not able to speak today. It will begin at 4pm on Thursday and will be held at the theatre upstairs at Steam, not the civic offices at Euclid Street as originally arranged.

The inquiry is expected to last until February 6, with a decision by Mr Middleton sometime in March.