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Open Forum questions and answers

Answers to some of the questions from the Open Forum on 26 October 2020.

Last updated: 8 February 2021

Questions on sustainable development

Q. Anna - How are you taking the climate emergency and your carbon neutral targets into consideration when assessing planning applications? (Both new build, and applications to demolish and rebuild)

A. The draft City Plan 2019 - 2040 includes new policies and requirements for development to support the climate emergency response, including targeting zero carbon standards and minimising energy use and to consider the 'whole-life' carbon impact of development. The City Plan has just completed its public hearings stage and is expected to be adopted early next year.

Westminster already requires new major residential schemes to meet the zero carbon standard (and has done since 2016) – the new City Plan extends this target to all major non-residential developments too.

In addition, through our heritage policies we also support retention and sensitive reuse and adaption of existing building stock, recognising the higher carbon footprint associated with constructing new buildings.

Q. Colin - Can we expect to see a major shift from environmentally harmful demolition and construction, to more environmentally friendly refurbishment of office buildings?

A. The re-use and refurbishment of buildings is important in reducing the embodied carbon impact of development. The City Plan sets out the importance of sensitively refurbishing or retrofitting buildings prior to demolition. Any plans involving substantial demolition and reconstruction will need to be justified on the basis of whole-life carbon impact, resource and energy use in comparison to the existing building. 

Q. Issy - Why does the council authorise so many 'sustainable' demolition and new build developments, when the most environmentally friendly option would be to properly maintain and retrofit existing structures?

A. Planning applications for new development must be determined in accordance with adopted planning policies, which in turn must be consistent with national planning policy. Current policies don’t permit us to refuse new developments proposing the demolition of existing buildings on the basis of the additional carbon emissions resulting from the act of demolition and rebuilding. Notwithstanding this, officers encourage and support the retention and reuse of buildings where they can be converted or reused to provide accommodation that meets current standards.

The new London Plan and Westminster’s new City Plan, which are expected to be adopted in early 2021, introduce higher sustainability standards for new development in the city, which will result in the delivery of buildings of a much higher standard of environmental performance. The policies in the new City Plan, which have been designed to support the council’s climate emergency objective of making the city carbon neutral by 2040, will also provide greater support for the retention and reuse of existing buildings.

Under the new City Plan applicants will be expected to consider whether it is appropriate to sensitively refurbish or retrofit existing buildings when designing schemes. In support of applications they will need to justify their approach by comparing the whole-life carbon impact and resource and energy usage of a replacement building against refurbishment and reuse of the existing building. Additionally, in conservation areas existing buildings with a harmful or neutral impact on the character and appearance of the conservation area will only be allowed to be demolished or refurbished where this would result in a high quality building which improves environmental performance as well as the appearance of the site.

Q. Kim - What are you doing to future proof your buildings? How are you incentivising the reuse of buildings over demolition and new build? What are you doing to ensure developers are a green as possible when submitting a planning application?

A. The policies set out in the Environment chapters of the City Plan outline the environmental performance standards that all new development proposals in the city must comply with to help reduce their environmental impact, including energy conservation, air quality and waste.

The re-use and refurbishment of buildings is important in reducing the embodied carbon impact of development. The City Plan sets out the importance of sensitively refurbishing or retrofitting buildings prior to demolition. Any plans involving substantial demolition and reconstruction will need to be justified based on whole-life carbon impact, resource and energy use in comparison to the existing building.

Q. Peter - What has been done to take account of the CO2 etc embodied in building structures in order to encourage upgrading and repurposing rather than demolition and reconstruction?

A. The re-use and refurbishment of buildings is important in reducing the embodied carbon impact of development. The City Plan sets out the importance of sensitively refurbishing or retrofitting buildings prior to demolition. Any plans involving substantial demolition and reconstruction will need to be justified based on whole-life carbon impact, resource and energy use in comparison to the existing building.

All major developments referable to the mayor of London will now need to undertake as assessment of the whole-life carbon impact of the development as part of the planning application.

In addition, the policies set out in the Environment chapters of the City Plan outline the environmental performance standards that all new development proposals in the city must comply with to help reduce their environmental impact, including energy conservation, air quality and waste.

Q. Samantha - Why are new builds for affordable housing still being mandated to include parking for automobiles?

A. Current planning policy adopted in 2007 sets out that the council may require off-street car parking to be provided alongside new residential development up to a maximum of one space per unit for homes of two bedrooms or less and one to two spaces for family sized homes as a maximum amount.

The draft City Plan 2019 – 2040 sets out a vision for a healthier, greener city and sustainable transport and making the city more attractive for walking and cycling are at the heart of many of the new policies. The new City Plan policy on parking has been modified since the examination of the Plan started last year to now seek all residential development in areas of high public transport accessibility to be car-free. This will much more clearly contribute to that vision for a greener city.

Please note: it is up to the Planning Inspectors examining the City Plan whether to accept proposed modifications to the policies in the draft Plan. We expect this modification to be recommended, however as it brings the City Plan in conformity with London Plan.

Q. Samantha - Why is there no focus on more future-thinking building planning like incorporating solar panels into new builds (or retro-fitting old buildings)?

A. 75 per cent of Westminster’s energy demand is from buildings including offices, hotels and shops. We are home to the headquarters of many international businesses and commercial organisations, and support visitors and employees in addition to Westminster residents.
We are already:

  • improving the environmental performance of council buildings, including City Hall and our libraries 
  • enforcing Minimum Energy Efficiency standards in commercial premises
  • encouraging corporate social responsibility in local businesses through the Westminster Lions and Heart of the City programmes
  • updating our procurement and green vehicle policies to reduce emissions from contractors