OUR ‘Just to Phil You in’ column returns once again this week.

Test Valley Borough Council leader Phil North reflects on the events of last week and the fatal explosion in Launcelot Close.

Having never spent a Christmas away from Andover, it was already an unusual feeling to wake up in Suffolk on Christmas morning as I celebrated the festive season with my wife’s family.

Two days later I rose to the news that there had been an explosion in King Arthurs Way and that it was likely there would be at least one fatality.

I immediately phoned into the office and was reassured to hear that our emergency planning procedure had successfully kicked in.

Although the response to the incident was being led by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service we already had housing officers on the ground looking after those that had been evacuated.

Despite the fact our response matched the standards for which the council trains for, I have never felt so far from home. Not only was this deeply tragic incident taking place in Test Valley, it was happening in the council ward I represent. This was my community.

I quickly worked with our communications team to agree a statement to reassure members of the public; briefed the Member of Parliament; and spoke to one of my housing officers over the phone to ensure we were providing emergency accommodation for those displaced from their homes.

Thanks to the tireless work of my housing team we were able to issue a further statement later that day to confirm that everyone evacuated had somewhere to stay while investigations were ongoing and had either been put up in a hotel or had decided to stay with friends or family.

I am indebted to my deputy leader, who being closer to home was able to do television interviews from the scene, as I am to all my incredibly hardworking council officers, some of which had to give up time with their families over the festive season to help respond to the incident, as well as the emergency services who did a great job in an incredibly difficult situation.

My biggest thanks are reserved for the local community itself. Everyone really rallied around to help each other. A community that had suffered so much yet still found the capacity to care.

At the time of writing, we still don’t know the exact reasons for the explosion but my deepest condolences go to the family and friends of James Kirkby who was tragically killed.

We will continue to do all we can to support the local community.