Retrofit vs Rebuild? GLA Report

Retrofit vs Rebuild? GLA Report
Kidbrooke looking inwards towards central London

In a city where the skyline is constantly evolving, London stands at the cusp of a pivotal shift in its approach to urban development. The London Assembly's recent report, "Retrofit vs Rebuild?" offers a forward-thinking perspective on reducing carbon emissions in the built environment, advocating for a paradigm shift from demolition to retrofitting.

This groundbreaking report, destined to reshape London's architectural landscape, merits the attention of retrofit experts, architects, building planners, construction companies, and even demolition professionals.

At the heart of the report is the advocacy for Whole Life-Cycle Carbon (WLC) Assessments, emphasizing the importance of evaluating both operational and embodied carbon emissions throughout a building's lifecycle. This comprehensive approach not only outlines a path to sustainability but also underscores the economic benefits of retrofitting, making a compelling case for its financial viability through potential Value Added Tax (VAT) reductions.

The report's recommendations are a clarion call to action, urging both government and industry stakeholders to embrace and implement strategies for a more sustainable future:

  1. Mandatory WLC Assessments: A call for government to mandate WLC Assessments, providing a model for national policy based on London's pioneering efforts.
  2. Annual Data Publication: The Mayor of London is urged to publish annual data from WLC Assessments, fostering transparency and enabling continuous improvement.
  3. Enhanced Guidance for WLC Assessments: Recommendations for the next iteration of guidance to include ambitious benchmarks, incorporate grid decarbonisation projections, and mandate third-party audits.
  4. VAT Adjustments for Retrofitting: Advocating for government assessment on making retrofitting financially more attractive by adjusting VAT rates.
  5. Supportive Working Group: A call for the formation of a working group to bolster local authorities in promoting whole life carbon and circular economy approaches.
  6. Infrastructure Review for Circular Economy: Recommends a review to identify necessary infrastructure, products, and services to support a circular economy in construction.

These recommendations not only chart a course towards a more sustainable urban environment but also reflect a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities inherent in London's unique architectural heritage and its future development.

The ripple effects of implementing these recommendations could be profound. By mandating WLC Assessments, the industry is incentivized to prioritize sustainability from the outset of the planning process. The push for transparency through annual data publication promises to hold stakeholders accountable, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

Moreover, the call for enhanced guidance and third-party audits ensures that sustainability efforts are both ambitious and credible.

Financial viability is addressed through the recommendation for VAT adjustments, acknowledging the economic barriers to retrofitting and seeking to level the playing field. The formation of a supportive working group and the review of infrastructure for a circular economy highlight the need for a collaborative, systemic approach to sustainability, ensuring that the necessary tools and frameworks are in place to support these ambitious goals.

In essence, the "Retrofit vs Rebuild?" report is not just a blueprint for reducing carbon emissions; it's a manifesto for a smarter, more sustainable London. It presents a vision of the city where the historic and the modern coexist, where sustainability is not just an aspiration but a practical, achievable goal.

As London continues to grow and evolve, the decisions made today will shape the city for generations to come. This report makes it clear that the path to a sustainable future is through retrofitting and reuse, not demolition and rebuild.

The report has come at an interesting time for the UK demolition industry and the retrofit suppliers too. Demolition in the UK has been in free fall since the CMA report detailing widespread rigging of tenders and issued £60million in fines. The authority on demolition news, the eponymous is reporting multiple firms approaching administration.

Retrofit companies have to navigate the challenges of stringent fire regulations which in many cases have hit bio based materials the hardest.

For architects, planners, and builders, the report is a treasure trove of insights and guidelines for integrating sustainability into their projects. For policymakers, it provides a clear direction for supporting and regulating sustainable development. And for the citizens of London, it offers a glimpse into a future where their city leads the world not just in its skyline, but in its commitment to a sustainable, carbon-neutral future.

The time for action is now. London stands at a crossroads, and the choices made will echo through the ages. The "Retrofit vs Rebuild?" report lays out a path to a sustainable, vibrant urban future. The only question that remains is whether we have the collective will to follow it.

We've follow up interviews coming with GLA members which you can listen to by subscribing to the podcast available here.