Author : Ian Barber
The Minerva and Oxford Street cases have brought under the spotlight the UK's demolition practices, embodied carbon concerns, and the planning system. With the growing focus on net-zero and climate emergency policies, there is a greater emphasis on reusing existing buildings on land instead of pursuing demolition policies. In the case of Oxford Street, the decision to demolish three buildings is now under review, indicating the importance of deliberating environmental impacts. Embodied carbon has emerged as a crucial factor in construction decisions, especially after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which exposed serious flaws in construction regulation. The incident highlighted the need to address misleading information in marketing construction products and challenges related to standardisation.
The Building Safety Act of 2022 seeks to rectify these weaknesses, providing stronger regulations to ensure safer construction practices and reduce environmental impacts.Great Portland Estates is awaiting the Southwark Council's decision on revamping the Minerva site. This underlines the significance of sustainable and environmentally responsible development in urban areas.These cases also highlight the growing awareness of environmental impacts and the need for more stringent measures to reduce embodied carbon in construction projects across the UK.
The focus on embodied carbon in the context of net zero and climate emergency policies is leading to increased attention on reusing previously developed land, known as Brownfield development. Planning policies in the UK have traditionally supported Brownfield development. However, the increasing emphasis on embodied carbon now highlights the importance of whole life-cycle carbon assessment. For example, the National Planning Framework 4 policy in Scotland encourages the reuse of existing buildings, prioritising conversion over demolition to conserve embodied energy.
Still, the application of these policies is context-specific and entails a careful examination of the evidence base. Recent examples, such as the Minerva Street decision in Glasgow, demonstrate that demolition may still be justified based on the sustainability benefits of higher-density development in specific accessible locations.
On the other hand, the Oxford Street case in England shows that demolition proposals can face opposition, especially when the heritage values of the buildings are substantial. In the Oxford Street case, the Secretary of State refused permission to demolish three buildings, not agreeing with the inspector's conclusions on heritage harm and the lack of viable alternatives. The abundance of evidence supporting the advantages of new development and the non-feasibility of reusing existing buildings played a critical role in the decision-making process.
The focus on embodied carbon is challenging traditional approaches to Brownfield development, and decisions are becoming more nuanced, taking into account sustainability and heritage considerations. Each case must be carefully assessed based on its unique circumstances and the available evidence to strike a balance between environmental goals and development needs.
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