Planning and the Climate – Retrofit rather then Rebuild to Reduce Carbon

The UK built environment is responsible for 25% of UK greenhouse gas emissions.  It is clear that the planning process and construction can have a big impact on the UKs ability to achieve net zero by 2050. 

During the second reading of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill on 8 June, Michael Gove (Housing Secretary) explained that a document setting out the intended changes to national policy on environmental matters will be published in July. We are told that this will say significantly more about how we can drive improved environmental outcomes.  In the meantime,…

The recent report “Building to Net Zero: Costing Carbon in Construction” from the Environmental Audit Committee highlights the lack, to date, of consideration of emissions from the construction, maintenance and demolition process, embodied emissions, when they amount to 40-50 million tonnes of CO2 annually, more than the shipping and aviation industry combined. The report recommends that the government introduces a mandatory requirement for whole life carbon assessments for buildings.  Such assessments are already required in Holland and France and consider embodied emissions as well as emissions from day-to-day operation of a building.  Each time a building is knocked down a significant amount of locked in carbon is wasted and the demolition process itself produces further emissions.  Hence the focus on reuse.  There is a recent and high-profile example of the focus on repurposing rather than starting again in London.

Michael Gove has called in the planning application for demolition and replacement of the Marble Arch Marks and Spencer building (much to the frustration of the retailer).  Although the Local Planning Authority, Westminster City Council (LPA) were minded to approve the scheme and the Greater London Authority had confirmed that they were content to allow the LPA to do so, the Housing Secretary has concerns.  SAVE Britain’s Heritage and Architects Journal wrote an open letter asking Gove to call in the decision that was signed by various high profile and respected architects.  There are concerns about the loss of an historic interwar building as well as environmental concerns due to the immediate carbon release involved in the vast quantity of raw materials required to construct the proposed scheme.  The letter referenced a report by Simon Sturgis that found almost 40,000 tonnes of CO2 would be released by the proposed development.  The letter suggested that an innovative approach to retrofitting the building could secure another 100 years or more of use of the building.

Now that Michael Gove has called in the scheme it will be considered at a Public Inquiry.  This will consider whether the proposals accord with planning policy.  The Inspector will make a recommendation for the Housing Secretary to take into account when deciding on the scheme.

The report, Building to Net Zero: Costing Carbon in Construction was published on 26 May 2022.  It contains recommendations which the government has two months to respond to.  It is available here:

Posted on 7 July, 2022 by Ortolan

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