Rainham land waste probe

A Rainham cemetery development is under investigation by Havering Council – four years after the Environment Agency discovered piles of “illegal waste” on the land.

For the past four years, the council has dismissed local residents’ suggestions that owner Daniel Moretti quarried and landfilled his land in Upminster Road North under the guise of developing a “multi-faith cemetery”.

However, an Environment Agency report uncovered by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) shows the agency took action against the owner for “illegal waste activity” in early 2019.

During the 2019 investigation, officers from the Environment Agency found contaminated construction waste, three piles of “general commercial loose waste” and two large piles of “trommel fines” – a term describing small pieces of gravel, plastic, wood or metal that are too small to separate on an industrial scale.

They issued the owner with a formal “stop” warning for having the unpermitted waste on the land, but closed the investigation a month later, noting that “activities on the site have ceased”.

Havering Council’s monitoring of landfill activities in Rainham has come under fierce criticism in recent years due to worsening toxic fires at an illegal dump known as Arnolds Field, which neighbours Mr Moretti’s land.

The council has told the LDRS it is now “investigating” whether huge piles of soil on Mr Moretti’s land, and on neighbouring land, should have been placed there “without planning permission”.

The town hall is considering legal action to force Mr Moretti to remove the material, which it describes as “non-contaminated” soils.

Concerned neighbours say the council and Environment Agency “turned a blind eye” to the issue in the last four years as the land became an industrial-scale “gravel pit” before lorries brought material to refill the pit.

In response to the claims, Mr Moretti’s team told the LDRS he was preparing the land to become a “multi-faith cemetery” called Elysium Gardens and dismissed concerned neighbours as “rumour makers and scandal-mongers”.

Both the council and Mr Moretti insist that any industrial activity on the site is permitted under planning permission for a burial site granted in 1935. Mr Moretti shared a scanned document with the LDRS that appears to be planning permission, issued 88 years ago by the now-defunct Hornchurch Urban District Council (UDC), for a burial site.

Mr Moretti’s project manager David Cain claimed the waste found by investigators in 2019 was “fly-tipped” before they took over ownership of the site and had to be removed “at a significant cost”.

He added that the contaminated hardcore, delivered by a local company whose owners have a conviction for dumping hazardous waste, was intended for a road on the site and also cost “a lot of money” to repair.

Usually, anyone quarrying should apply for planning permission from the local authorities and, depending on which material is used, landfilling requires an environmental permit to monitor what can be placed in the ground.

On a site directly neighbouring the cemetery site, sand and gravel firm Brett Aggregates applied for planning permission to carry out similar quarrying activity in the 2010s. East London waste contractors P F Ahern and Sons Ltd then landfilled the quarry pit after obtaining an environmental permit.

However, satellite imagery of the Upminster Road North site – sold by neighbouring landowner The Federation of Synagogues in 2016 without any burials taking place – suggests that most of the site was excavated between 2019 and 2023, at one point creating a huge pool of water which neighbours say attracted clouds of insects.

In January 2019, four months before the Environment Agency decided activities had “ceased” on the cemetery site, Moretti sent neighbours a letter warning of “somewhat intrusive” works for six to eight months with the promise of an “unrivalled” parkland cemetery when finished.

Repeated complaints about “horrendous” dust, noise and queues of lorries arriving in the early hours prompted a second letter from Moretti in May 2020 warning that work would continue for “no longer than ten weeks from now”.

From early 2021, concrete company Sivyer occupied part of the site and had a weighbridge to monitor how much material was leaving or entering the site. Safety signs at the gate leading to the site warned visitors of “quarry workings” and “deep excavations”.

When approached for comment, the Environment Agency said it had no concerns about what Mr Moretti’s team has placed in the ground. A spokesperson for the agency said no environmental permit was needed as the materials used were considered “suitable” under a less-strict waste control scheme known as Definition of Waste Code of Practice (DOWCoP).

However, the spokesperson did not respond to repeated requests for details of whether it has carried out any on-site monitoring since 2019.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter