Following the dreadful events in North Kensington, much of the public criticism has been directed at national politicians. They’re not exempt from their part of the responsibility, but the PM’s office is not where the primary authority, or responsibility, rests. Every local authority in the UK has a statutory duty to make plans for emergencies, and the first question should have been about what the local authority was doing to implement its emergency plan. Kensington and Chelsea formed their most recent plan, dated 2015, in conjunction with Hammersmith and Fulham; the coordination of arrangements with Hammersmith and Fulham is scheduled to come to an end next year, but that does not excuse any failure now. The emergency plan can be found here, on the Hammersmith and Fulham site (on page 6, it’s co-signed by the responsible K & C officer). It tells us that what the local authority was expected to do, and they should have been ready to do within three hours of the reported incident (the three-hour guideline is on page 10; during a working day, it should have been activated within 45 minutes). This, from page 17, identifies specifically the roles that the local authority might be expected to fulfil:
Maintaining statutory services at an appropriate level, wherever possible.
Supporting the emergency services and other organisations involved in the immediate response. This could include:
- Clearance of debris and restoration of roadways, provision of engineering services and emergency signing.
- Structural advice, and making safe or demolition of dangerous
- Assistance in the evacuation of the civilian population.
- Provision of premises for Body Holding Centres, Survivor Reception Centres, Friends and Relatives Reception Centres, briefing and rest facilities for emergency services personnel.
- Provision of a Temporary Mortuary.
Providing support services for the community and others affected by the incident. This could include:
- Provision of Emergency Rest Centres, with food and beverages, beds, and welfare services.
- Provision of a Humanitarian Assistance Centre.
- Provision of emergency sanitation and hygiene services.
- Re-housing of those made homeless, in both the short and long term.
- Inspection of and emergency repairs to housing.
- Environmental health management.
- Implementation of measures to control the spread of disease.
- Establishing Community Assistance Centres for the dissemination of information and support to those affected by the emergency.
Enabling the community to recover and return to normality as soon as possible.
Given the failure of the local authority to provide most of this, it is not surprising that they have not sought to use their existing powers more extensively – such as the power to promote welfare, to purchase property voluntarily, or to invoke compulsory purchases. But that is what would happen in much of continental Europe – for example, when Jacques Chirac, as mayor of Paris, effectively commandeered empty property in the rue du Dragon for use by homeless people. (Chirac, in case people have forgotten, was a conservative.) That was done by agreement, under threat of requisition. There are places in North Kensington where the displaced people could live.