Havering Council has been criticised by environmental groups regarding "slow progress" in stopping underground fires in Rainham.

Smoke from fires at the Arnolds Field rubbish dump in Launders Lane has been seen regularly in recent years and the London Fire Brigade revealed it attended more than 70 blazes there from 2018 to 2022.

Havering Climate Coalition, made up of seven local environmental groups, has now penned an open letter to council leader Ray Morgon.

Ruth Kettle-Frisby, who is part of the coalition, said it has become a public health crisis for people in Rainham and requested an immediate meeting with the council.

She said the group is "pleased" the council administration is taking on the issue but felt more action is needed.

Ruth felt there is "confusion" concerning "unreasonable delays and the burden of responsibility".

“We are keen to support […] the residents of Rainham who are deeply and understandably frustrated, disheartened and concerned for their health given the slow progress towards a remedial resolution.”

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The Local Democracy Reporting Service recently reported that landowner DMC Essex, owned by Jeremiah O’Donovan, 57, and Finbarr McMachon, 54, claims that it has been engaging with the council about remediating the land since buying it for £440,000 in 2017.

Romford Recorder: Cllr Ray MorgonCllr Ray Morgon (Image: Havering Council)

Addressing residents at a meeting last month, a planning agent for the landowner accused the council of “blocking” his client’s offer to spend millions clearing the land.

In a letter to the Recorder, Cllr Morgon disputed this and said the owner can do what they want within the law.

Cllr Morgon said the local authority takes the matter seriously, but can only do so much.

He said the ultimate responsibility lies with the landowner and the Environment Agency (EA), the government body tasked with addressing UK climate issues.

“Ultimately it is down to the landlord to make sure there’s nothing on the land causing harm to local people,” he said.

“Equally the EA should be the agency protecting our environment, but I can’t see anything in the last year that it has done to make the area safer.”

However, an EA spokesperson disagreed and said Havering Council is the lead authority on Launders Lane and monitoring air quality there.

They added that it had prosecuted three men in 2019 for fly-tipping in Launders Lane and four other locations and had issued a warning letter to a landowner nearby for the treatment of waste.

Ruth said it was the council's duty to clarify how long the site has been monitored for and what action will be taken.

“The council represents residents, and it has a duty of care to protect their health,” she added.