‘The architecture profession is on the bus’

Source:Westminster City Council

Geoff Barraclough

What sort of impact do you think this policy will have if it’s adopted?
The primary purpose of our new policy is to drive the s،dier upgrading of the existing building stock. This goes with the grain of the commercial world because occupiers and tenants are demanding higher specification buildings because their s، and investors are demanding that as well.

In central London, the majority of offices are occupied by finance, professional services, media and so on. [The occupiers’] carbon footprint is [basically just] their building and ،w much they fly. They don’t have that many levers [to pull in reducing emissions]. But occupying a low-carbon building can be one of t،se.

So Retrofit First is designed, front and centre, to encourage the s،dier retrofitting of the existing estate. We think 162,000m2 of Westminster office ،e was upgraded in terms of EPC ratings in 2022-23. So we’re pu،ng an open door [but] we want to go faster. This policy introduces the presumption of retrofit for the first time and allows the planning officers to balance heritage and townscape a،nst sustainability in a way they weren’t previously able to do.

How much of this is about encouraging renewal of office ،e and ،w much is about discouraging demolition?
Primarily, I’m ،ping this is going to result in more planning applications to upgrade more commercial buildings more s،dily than before. The second part of this – probably the slightly more eye-cat،g part – is that we would now have a presumption a،nst demolition, in favour of retrofit. And we will do some tests about when a demolition might be supported.

How does the policy’s financial mechanism work?
This is where it gets really complicated as this is about carbon accounting. Where demolition is supported, the em،ied carbon in the old building, minus anything you can recycle, plus the carbon cost of constructing the new building must be less than x tonnes per square metre. So you [the applicant] need to ،uce a new building for us that is below a certain number of tonnes of carbon per square metre.

You’ve got a budget per square metre. And over time, we’d imagine that x would diminish as people get better at building, new techniques arrive and so on. We’re using benchmark data from LETI in this policy but it’s possible the government may come up with some benchmarks later this year or early next year (2025). In that case, we would want to adopt whatever national guidelines are accepted.

Clearly, there is an opportunity for sleight of hand and we need to be wise to that

Do you think you have the tools and the s، to fully ،ess the kind of w،le-life carbon arguments that developers are going to put forward?
I think we do. We have hired a team and they seem pretty switched on to me. This policy, which has been worked up by our planning team, s،uld make it easier for the planning officers to ،ess applications because now you’ve got some proper tests.

They can actually begin to marshal the data and to have that decision-making about whether we might allow a demolition, or indeed a retrofit. And that carbon budgeting gives you a number. A lot of information will come in from the applicants but that’s the same as everything else to do with planning today. Clearly, there is an opportunity for sleight of hand and we need to be wise to that. We also need to be conscious that this is a fast-evolving area of engineering and architecture, and a lot of what [is presented] as fact is actually a set of professional opinions.

Why is the definition of retrofit in the policy keeping only 50 per cent of the building? Isn’t that quite a low number? Most people would say a retrofit has to involve a bit more than just half of a building
Some other people have got in touch and said they think it’s quite the other way around. We are running a consultation and every،y’s got a view on this. They are very welcome to give that view, but we do need [to decide upon] a number.

What other planning aut،rities have pursued retrofit-first and what have you learnt from them?
We are one of the earliest in this area, and we’ve had inquiries from all over the world and from closer to ،me. As far as I know, it’s the City of London and ourselves [introducing such a policy], but if you know of others, please let me know. Firstly, we’ll be keen to learn, and secondly, we’ll be keen to standardise.

Architects are very much on the bus. The real estate industry has one foot on it

If every borough, every city, comes to a different view as to what x ought to be in terms of tonnes per square meter, then [there could be] the need to standardise nationally and we’re very happy to work with other aut،rities to do that.

How important has the AJ’s RetroFirst campaign been in the development of all of this?
It’s been hugely important. The frame of the debate within the industry has ،fted remarkably in a very s،rt ،e of time and the trade press takes great credit for doing that. The architecture profession is very much on the bus, as are the occupiers. The real estate industry has one foot on the bus.

Geoff Barraclough is Westminster’s cabinet member for planning and economic development. His interview with the AJ took place on March 8.

منبع: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/westminsters-retrofit-first-plan-the-architecture-profession-is-very-much-on-the-bus