Havering Council faced questions from angry Rainham residents about their response to recent fires.

Last week (September 1), council leader Ray Morgon and chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert attended an emergency meeting about the fires, which come from an unregulated dump at Arnolds Field in Launders Lane, Rainham.

Fears about the health effects of smoke from the fires, which have increased in recent years, have caused some residents to accuse the council of failing to take enough action.

In the last two weeks, the London Fire Brigade has attended the site for firefighting or a controlled burn on eight separate days.

One member of the meeting’s organising group, Rainham Against Pollution, said Havering’s Council’s recent statements lacked “compassion” and accused the council of failing to regularly update residents on the issue.

He said: “The last seven to ten days my throat has been killing me, and I’m more than a mile away from Launder’s Lane.

Firefighters use ladders to douse the fire on 22nd August as the ground is considered too unsafe to enter. Image: Simon Monaghan

Firefighters use ladders to douse the fire on 22nd August as the ground is considered too unsafe to enter. Image: Simon Monaghan

“I couldn’t imagine what those who live nearby are going through – I’ve been ill for a long, long time.

“Where was the local authority’s bulletins and information that we needed to hear?”

One local mother, whose son has cancer, said the smoke is so bad that he often has a sore throat and cannot play in the park.

Council leader Ray Morgon (middle), chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert (right) and landowner\s agent Liam Nicholson (left). Image: LDRS

Council leader Ray Morgon (middle), chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert (right) and landowner\'s agent Liam Nicholson (left). Image: LDRS

Others questioned why the council has taken so long to start a study of what is burning on the site and pointed out that there are no fences or signs warning about potential dangers.

The crowd jeered at council leader Ray Morgon when he told the crowd that monitors installed since 2021 have shown the air quality in the area is at a “good level” when the fires are not burning.

But he added that the council and Environment Agency are now paying a company to analyse the ground to find out what has been dumped there.

A representative of Geo-Environmental Services said they will start a “forensic analysis” of waste on the site and where the fires are coming from on August 18.

(Left to right) the landowners agent Liam Nicholson, council leader Ray Morgon, the councils chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert. Image: LDRS

(Left to right) the landowner's agent Liam Nicholson, council leader Ray Morgon, the council's chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert. Image: LDRS

Landowner Jerry O’Donovan’s representative said the plant machinery used to dig boreholes would be provided by his company free of charge.

Havering’s chief executive Andrew Blake Herbert sought to reassure the crowd that the council is “genuinely committed” to finding a solution.

But he added: “The council cannot resolve this issue – it’s got to work in partnership.”

The chief executive added that the situation is “really, really complex” and claimed the council has limited powers to take action against those that dumped waste on the site over more than 20 years.

Residents groaned and jeered when he said the owner’s offer to spend millions cleaning the site in exchange for planning permission might be blocked by Green Belt restrictions.

He explained that the fires and unregulated waste on the site are not necessarily the “exceptional circumstances” that would allow building on the Green Belt.

On action the council has taken, Blake-Herbert said: “The air quality levels in Rainham are the same as the air quality levels in the rest of Havering, the challenge is absolutely stopping those fires so you don’t get those peaks and that’s what we’ve got to try and resolve.”

The council has paid a company, Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), to install specialist “nodes” in Rainham that will offer a detailed analysis of residue from the fires.

He said: “So as much as having the fires is horrendous for you, and I absolutely get that it is, actually having them means we’ve collected some of those particles.

“And we are very happy that [TRL] will provide that information publicly and directly at the same time as it is provided to the council.

“We genuinely want to be… open and transparent about this, so whatever comes out of the soil samples, and whatever comes back from that air sampling, we will genuinely share.”

Liam Nicholson, who attended the meeting on behalf of owner Jerry O’Donovan, did not respond directly when asked what measures the landowner has taken to stop the fires.

However, he repeated the landowner’s offer to “remediate” the land in exchange for permission to develop about 25% of it into an industrial machinery storage area.

He claimed the council has “not responded” to the offer since it was first tabled in 2019, but admitted that no planning application for the proposal has ever been submitted.

He said: “We tried to but we got no response [to pre-planning application emails] from the planning department.”

A spokesperson for the London Fire Brigade said: “The brigade has recently attended a number of incidents on Launders Lane.

“We will continue to send crews to assess any reports of fire and we will respond appropriately so firefighters can ensure any fire does not spread any further.”