London mayor on path to introduce carbon emission limits for individual developments

Developers could be subject to stricter requirements to cut CO2 emissions under the next version of the London Plan, the city’s deputy mayor for planning has said.

Speaking at the UK's Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum conference in Leeds on 17 May, Jules Pipe, London’s deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills, said that there are “so many sort of hidden costs to the planet that we [the development sector] never factor in, and that's just shuffled on to other people, often to other people around the other side of the world”. 

In a session entitled 'Beyond net zero – the path to success for sustainable development', Pipe said it was “about time that we kind of grew up” and calculated the whole cost of any development to both the planet and to society, rather than just considering the upfront costs. 

“One of the big milestones that we had recently was effectively the whole lifecycle carbon requirement of measuring that and recording that”, he said, referring to a requirement included in the current London Plan which was adopted in 2021, replacing its 2016 predecessor. 

Policy SI 2 of the London Plan requires developers to submit detailed assessments of a building’s energy use over its entire lifecycle as part of the planning application process.

“A lot of people said, well, we should have just gone straight to carbon limits on particular developments, but we never would've got that through inspection because it has to be evidence-based,” Pipe said. 

Requiring developers to produce these assessments “will give us the evidence base that hopefully for the next London Plan, we would actually start being able to seriously consider carbon allowances for buildings”, he said. 

While he said that difficulties retrofitting the existing housing stock to make it more energy-efficient were the “biggest challenge we face” in terms of getting to net zero, he also called for building regulations to be “sorted… so we can start building more timber-framed buildings”. 

“At the moment, Grenfell and the uncertainty about timber-framed buildings is preventing us from really taking advantage of a very obvious opportunity,” Pipe said.

Meanwhile, Alexa Culver, general counsel at Environment Bank, which aims to create a network of sites providing offsite biodiversity net gain (BNG) for developers, praised the potential impact of the impending requirement for developers to deliver at least a 10% BNG on most development sites, which will be introduced in November this year. 

Culver said the Environment Act, which she described as a “world-leading piece of legislation”, would “turbocharge delivering genuine gains”, making it “without a doubt, one of the biggest things to hit the question of sustainable development in England”. 

“And it's important because the biodiversity needs to thrive if we're going to have any chance of tackling the climate crisis,” she said, adding the issues are “utterly interconnected”.

This article originally appeared in ENDS’ sister title Planning Magazine