Red Warning – Extreme Heat: Ministers were warned. Repeatedly. And did nothing.

As were the executives of large corporations – including those old enough to remember the Blue Peter Green Book from 1990digitised here.

“The Evidence Report states that urgent action is needed in the next five years across a range of policy areas to address overheating in homes and public buildings and to reduce the impacts of the urban heat island effect through urban design and planning. Research is recommended into the impacts of overheating on employee productivity”

UK Climate Change Risk Assessment – Jan 2017

The Climate Change Act 2008 requires the Secretary of State responsible for Climate Change to commission and present the risk assessments every five years. This from Section 56 of the Climate Change Act 2008.

  1. “It is the duty of the Secretary of State to lay reports before Parliament containing an assessment of the risks for the United Kingdom of the current and predicted impact of climate change.
  2. The first report under this section must be laid before Parliament no later than three years after this section comes into force.
  3. Subsequent reports must be laid before Parliament no later than five years after the previous report was so laid.”

Accordingly, the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 was laid before Parliament in January 2017.

….and that report said Ministers had five years in which to take urgent action to reduce the impacts of the Urban Heat Island effect – something I recall covering in the mid-1990s in A-level geography.

***But Brexit and Covid!!!***

That lack of preparedness amongst other things revealed major health inequalities, as Prof Michael Marmot said here. Now that the Public Inquiry into the Corona Virus Pandemic has been launched, expect to see some damning evidence of how woefully prepared ministers were.

And it’s not like Extinction Rebellion haven’t been kicking up some noise over the climate emergency. And for the first time today we saw windows being smashed Suffragette style. I’m saddened but not surprised by those actions of what seems to be one of many offshoots and splinter groups that have emerged from the protests before Covid 19. But they are not the first to have taken radical direct action on the environment. Over two decades ago, Earth First! were in the headlines – you can see the archive of their publications here.

The Meteorological Office (The Met Office) issued a Red Warning for Extreme Heat earlier today

That’s the first one it has issued in its history. You can read the BBC’s report here. .

What contingency plans Downing Street says are in place remain to be seen – especially given the impact of 12 years of underfunding and austerity combined with the impact of the biggest public health catastrophe since the end of the First World War, and the fact we haven’t even got a competent government in office, let alone in power.

What the Red Warning Means

Other than ***Oh F–k!*** …

…it means that the intensity and geographical spread of the incident is as such that central government has to intervene. This is summarised in the Government’s Heatwave Plan for England – contingency planning being a devolved matter for Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland. You can read the latest Heatwave Plan for England here. The alert levels are summarised below. Earlier today, the first Red Warning of Extreme Heat over England put us into Level 4 territory – which means Central Government’s Civil Contingency teams are triggered. It also means that those civil contingency response volunteers (I used to be one) can be called up for however long ministers and senior emergency planners need them for.

Local public service plans in/around Cambridge

Here’s Cambridgeshire’s Fire & Rescue Service‘s latest update at the time of typing.

Cambridgeshire County Council yesterday – before the uprating to Red.

While Cambridge City Council reminds us to keep an eye on the trees

…while Cambridge Water is encouraging people to use less.

It’s too late to do anything other than mitigation. The forecast us for 40°C on Monday. That’s three days away. Not nearly long enough to fit every house with grey water/rain water collection systems that can automatically water the trees.

Once this is over, the public authorities, the private utilities, large institutions and firms that offer installation services all need to get together and work out how best to put policy and delivery rocket-boosters on retrofitting our city and county. It’s not like people haven’t been thinking and experimenting over the decades about this either. In the pioneering tome Radical Technology from 1976 – digitised here, they show an example of a retro-fitted communal living street of Victorian terraces that include solar water heaters and rainwater collection systems.

And Cambridge Carbon Footprint has expertise in running workshops for local residents and businesses on the practicalities of fitting contemporary versions of these technologies following half a century’s worth of development & research.

Above – from a previous workshop on rainwater harvesting. Local authorities and water companies should be funding a new round of workshops for the autumn, as well as subsidising the purchase and installation of rainwater harvesting systems for those who would struggle to make the investment alone. In the meantime, opposition politicians should start briefing media and industry that they will be making retrofitting measures mandatory in the event of them winning the next general election, and invite industry to start preparing for this now so as to be ahead of the curve and not face enforcement action later on down the line.

Transport and flash flooding

The heat and the lack of rainfall of late has already turned some parts of the industrialised agricultural fields around Cambridge to concrete. Yesterday, Cllr Helene Leeming (Lib Dems – Cambourne on South Cambs District Council) took out of Cambridge for the first time since the pandemic to have a look around Cambourne, Cambs, following my local history blogpost here. I had not been there for five years, but had been a fairly regular visitor to various Greater Cambridge Partnership meetings in the years prior to that. So it was interesting to get a feel of how the changes to building regulations had impacted on architecture, as well as getting a sense of both good and poor urban design. As Cllr Leeming told me, Cambourne is still unfinished, so it’s unfair to come to any final conclusion while it is still work in progress. Which is a fair point. Furthermore, I got to see the sorts of street pattern, sustainable urban drainage systems and flood prevention systems in the street design that we don’t have in the parts of Cambridge built before the Millennium / Year 2000.

On transport, I was also reminded of when Dr Rupert Read and the now enobled Natalie Bennett of The Green Party were in Cambridge in 2015 to launch The Cambridge Green Party’s then new transport report for Cambridge (which you can find here). Watch the video of the launch below.

Above – Dr Rupert Read (then the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for The Green Party in Cambridge) with Natalie Bennett, the then Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales – now Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, who has a seat in the House of Lords and is now one of its most regular contributors to debates.

You can watch Natalie Bennett’s speech from January 2015 below.

Above – Natalie Bennett in January 2015 – then Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, at King’s College, Cambridge.

“Other Parties – and the City Deal proposals – speak earnestly about their desire to rein in Cambridge’s traffic, but it is no good willing the ends if you do not will the means. Only radical green solutions will actually work.”

Dr Rupert Read to Cambridge Green Party at King’s College, Cambridge. 16 Jan 2015

It’s not like Cambridge hasn’t been struggling with transport infrastructure like many other places. The cars vs cyclists conflict is one that has been going on for decades to the extent it is now part of our local history. This was at a time when residents of The Kite were fighting off big developers to build a traffic-free neighbourhood through slower but more steady renovation rather than comprehensive redevelopment. I had a look in the archives at the Cambridgeshire Collection. You can also see my copy of their proposals – The Gradual Renewal of The Kite, which I bought from The Haunted Bookshop in Cambridge, which I’ve digitised here.

Above – The Gradual Renewal of The Kite, 1976.

Given the sale of The Grafton Centre by its current owners, and the agents trying to flog it off as premises for a science lab, one has to note that in the longer term, the locals were right. Again, this was also a time when activists were also trying to make the old Community Land Act work – this booklet from around the same time explaining what was going wrong with the planning system. Many issues sound frighteningly familiar.

And finally, a reminder that the LRTA published their proposals for an alternative to car-based transport back in 1944. I digitised my copy here.

The LRTA is still going today – and membership comes with Tramways & Urban Transit magazine. (There is a discounted student rate which includes the online version of the magazine). The magazine can also be ordered separately at Magazine Supermarket.

This won’t be the first extreme heatwave we face. Those in power were warned. We’ll find out this time next week what the public’s reaction to such abnormally hot temperatures is – and how they view the inevitable struggles that essential public services will face as a result. I hope it’s a spark for radical political action. But given the debate around the new Tory party leader and their next Prime Ministerial nominee, I’m not in a hopeful mood. I hope others are – and will take positive action.

Food for thought?

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