Rainham councillor defects back to Tories over Launders Lane fires

A Havering councillor has defected from the controlling Havering Residents Association (HRA) to the Conservatives, saying that she felt “isolated” over her response to a series of fires.

Jacqueline McArdle, a representative for Rainham ward, has rejoined the Tory group – having initially been elected as a Conservative councillor in May 2022 – where she says she will be better supported.

Cllr McArdle was among the three Rainham councillors who abandoned the Tories for the HRA in September 2022.

At the time, Cllr McArdle said she felt “let down” by the Tories’ “lack of support” over the Wennington wildfire, which saw 18 houses burn down during the July heatwave.

Announcing her return, Cllr McArdle said she no longer “fit in” with the HRA after a “public outburst” over the Launders Lane fires.

Though she eventually removed and apologised for her “inappropriate” social media comments, she says she was “fighting the council and HRA’s corner”.

The Arnolds Field dump in Launders Lane, a rural road through Rainham, has been the site of several large fires since 2013.

They are caused by an excessive build-up of rubbish, according to the London Fire Brigade, which attended more than 70 fires between 2018 and 2023.

Residents living nearby fear the periodic fires are causing sore throats and respiratory illnesses.

The council has attempted to tackle the issue over the past eleven years. However, decades of illegal dumping and privacy concerns over a NHS health probe have hindered progress.

Cllr McArdle claims to have been “harassed and threatened with no support from anyone,” despite her apology.

She continued: “I did attempt to leave the party last summer and just sit as an independent. I was advised that I would then be more isolated and that you need the backing of a party behind you, so I stayed.”

After “nothing really changed,” she made the “hard decision to leave” last week.

A spokesperson for the HRA told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that Launders Lane had been a “particularly difficult situation” in Rainham and some residents had “expressed particularly vindictive and nasty comments” towards councillors, including Cllr McArdle.

She added it was “ironic” that the Conservatives had “failed to address the Launders Lane situation while in power”.

Between 2002 and 2022, the council had been led by the Conservatives. Since the fires began, the authority has seen three Tory leaders.

The spokesperson said the group was “sorry” Cllr McArdle felt ignored “as that is not what the group is about”. She said the HRA had an “open-door policy” for members and they were encouraged to work together and seek advice.

She added: “While it is a loss to the HRA, we hope Cllr McArdle is happy with her decision to return to the Conservative group and enjoys the constraints of the group whip.”

The two other Rainham councillors, Sarah Edwards and deputy mayor Sue Ospreay, have remained with the HRA since September 2022.

Over the past two years, five councillors have defected to the HRA from the Tories and Labour. The authority is now made up of 25 HRA councillors alongside 17 Conservatives, and eight from Labour. The last few seats are filled by three East Havering Residents Group councillors and two representatives from Resident Association Independent Group.

The HRA-Labour coalition, formed after no party won the necessary majority of 28, collapsed last month over the appointment of the mayor. The HRA is now fully in charge as a minority administration.

Council leader Ray Morgon told the LDRS he did not think Cllr McArdle’s defection would affect the HRA’s control of the council.

Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter