A welcome step towards Net Zero Carbon

London Residential Lead, Michela Ravaglia shares her thoughts on the recently adopted London Plan 2021, praising its newfound commitment to sustainable development.

Image source: www.london.gov.uk (c) Greater London Authority

About a year ago, I attended a New London Architecture (NLA) conference on the then draft London Plan. After undergoing numerous revisions, the long-awaited document was finally published at the end of January and formally adopted last week.

The New London Plan presents many changes and some important key policies; from a higher target quantum of affordable housing for all newly delivered homes to a more flexible approach in the use of industrial land which offers opportunities for mixed-use developments.

Changes also include the identification of suitable locations for tall buildings and a definition which excludes those under 6-storey or 18 meters. Extensive reference is now made to ‘design’ and a ‘design-led approach’, both are covered under a dedicated chapter, and the document also highlights the importance of ‘good growth’ and introduces emerging housing types.

However, I must say, I was sad to see Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land protection has been scrapped from the new plan in favour of aligning London’s policy with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Of all the changes brought about by the new plan, the most welcome is the commitment towards Net Zero Carbon targets. This newfound and remarkable drive towards the sustainable agenda takes form in the publication of four guidance papers. Three of the papers are currently at consultation draft stage, due to be published later this year.

Whilst the requirements outlined in these papers only apply to referable applications (150 or more homes, development based on square meterage or height, with different targets depending on location), the plan encourages boroughs to extend these requirements to smaller sites, where feasible. It is important to note the requirement of continuous assessment of the proposed scheme throughout the development stages.

The first of the papers, the Energy Assessment [April 2020], was published last year and embraces the ‘be lean, be clean, be green, be seen’ energy hierarchy. It evaluates the proposed climate change mitigation measures and ensures that carbon reduction targets are not lost during the various stages of a project’s development.

The Circular Economy Statement [draft Oct. 2020] focuses on the entire life cycle of a building. It promotes a minimal use of new materials in favour of using recycled materials. It also encourages an end-of-life strategy and the re-use of materials after demolition; upcycling to retain and improve a material’s value is supported, whilst down-cycling is discouraged. Waste management strategies and performance monitoring are also targeted. However, material banks and a building material database are not mentioned in the draft; I believe that could be a missed opportunity.

The Whole Life-Cycle Carbon Assessment [draft Oct.2020] is a front-runner in considering embodied, as well as operational, carbon. It is finally recognised that, once we embrace a fabric-first approach and a reduction of energy usage, embodied carbon will represent the majority of a building’s carbon footprint. Therefore a reduction in embodied carbon will need to be targeted.

The “Be Seen” Energy Monitoring [draft Oct. 2020] requires the monitoring, verification and reporting of energy in use, carbon emissions and carbon offsetting. This data will form part of a continuously growing database which will allow the energy performance gap to be monitored.

These new policies—together with a focus on improved urban greening, waste reduction, water management, and greater promotion of walking and cycling—will bring about a much-needed change of approach in the construction industry. Most notably, the development of a valuable database of energy usage and carbon emissions will provide data to benchmark future developments and drive the ambition to build exemplar sustainable buildings.

By putting sustainability at the heart of its plan and embracing the Net Zero Carbon agenda, London is leading the way in the UK. Becoming Net Zero Carbon by 2030 is an ambitious goal, but it’s inspirational too. I have no doubt more councils will follow London’s example.

Overall, it is the clarity that the new plan brings to the Net Zero Carbon approach that I find most welcome. I look forward to its successful implementation.

Michela is our Residential Lead in London specialising in complex, large-scale, mixed-use projects. She is a certified Passivhaus Designer and champions fabric-first and Net Zero Carbon design. Get in touch with Michela to find out more about our approach to sustainable design.