DOZENS of families have signed up to take legal action over pungent smells from a giant compost facility in their village.

Residents claim they have suffered from “foul smells” from the £5m Agrivert plant at Ashgrove Farm, in Ardley, near Bicester, since it opened in February 2010.

More than 40 families have instructed Cardiff-based solicitors’ firm Hugh James to take on their case on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis.

Previously, residents said the smell was so bad they could not sit in their gardens or leave windows open in the summer.

The solicitors’ firm said people had also reported “symptoms of ill health” as a result of the problems.

Gwen Evans, of Hugh James, said: “The evidence we have seen suggests that residents have been exposed to an unacceptable level of odour from the green composting site.

“People in these circumstances are entitled to compensation for what they have suffered in the past, and an injunction to prevent the continuation of this nuisance in future.”

Legal action is at a preliminary stage.

A Hugh James spokesman said Agrivert had been notified of the proposed claim and it was still receiving inquiries from residents.

Ardley resident Eileen Hailey, who is one of those who has signed up to take legal action, said: “What we hope to achieve is that they clean it up.

“Obviously it (the plant) hasn’t been thought through properly. We are not saying it has to go as it serves a purpose, but they really have to make it so there’s no impact on the local residents.”

Harry Waters, of Agrivert, declined to discuss the legal threat, but said the firm had taken steps to sort out the smell, including reducing the amount of material processed there and removing plastics from waste.

He said: “We had some concerns raised over a year ago at which point we did a lot of work to try to respond to these.

“From what we see now from the numbers of complaints, that seems to have worked.”

Regular meetings of the Agrivert Liaison Committee, which is made up of members of the Environment Agency, and both Cherwell district and Oxfordshire county councils, residents and Agrivert, have taken place.

Chairman Catherine Fulljames said the committee was not involved in the legal action.

She said: “We are monitoring the situation very closely and nothing is slipping through the net at the moment.”

In 2012 the Environment Agency said it had received 33 calls about odour at Ardley, compared to 254 in 2011.

None of the odour reports have been confirmed as coming from the Agrivert site.

In the November edition of the Environment Agency’s Agrivert newsletter, said: “We measure how well waste sites are operating on a scale from A-F (A being the highest rating).

“In 2011 the Agrivert site was rated F. This year (2012) the operations have improved and the site is currently rated D.”

Hugh James plan to hold another meeting at Ardley with Fewcott Village Hall on January 17, between 2pm and 8pm, to discuss the claim.