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Tough new Life Cost Targets on London’s new builds

19 May 2020

Tough new Life Cost Targets on London’s new builds

Developers who work on London’s largest residential schemes already know the stringent, additional challenges they need to comply with to meet the capital’s strict carbon targets.

But now the Greater London Authority (GLA) has released proposals which will push future developments into using greener building materials. Good news for campaigners, but this is certain to bring fresh nightmares for designers, buyers and site managers.

The proposals suggest Whole Life Cost Assessments should be made mandatory on all referable schemes.

The idea of Whole Life Cost Assessments isn’t new. A watered down version currently features as part of BREEAM and is often talked about by future-looking thinktanks as an overlooked metric for tracking and reducing the UK construction industry’s carbon footprint long term.

Research in 2019 from Sturgis Carbon Profiling and RICS suggests more than half of the total carbon emissions produced during the lifetime of a house occurs before the first occupants move in. Yet Target Emission Rates in buildings are based only on a typical year’s use of the building services. Emissions caused by general occupancy (TV’s, cooking) are ignored, as are the emissions created during construction and demolition.

By considering Whole Life Cost Assessments, the GLA is looking to plug this gap and ensure new building sites are using more environmentally friendly building materials.

The theory behind WLC is quite simple. Track the types and amounts of materials used on a construction site and record the environmental impact of its creation, transportation, use and recycling.

But in practice the calculation is much trickier than the theory. Take, for example, a granite kitchen worktop. What was the environmental impact of extracting the granite? The impact of transporting it to be manufactured into a kitchen worktop? Then transported again to a distribution warehouse before travelling to the building site? Once it’s on site, how much of the product is cut out and thrown away? How many years later will the kitchen be renovated, and what happens to the granite then? Is it recycled or sent to landfill?

Then ask these questions for all building materials… Wall facades, insulation, skirting boards, cement, even ventilation ducting.

The method proposed by the GLA will require far more detail than the technique currently used by BREEAM. This means we are likely to see the use of 3D modelling software becoming more commonplace to calculate the assessment.

Despite the extra levels of detail in the proposals, the road to compliance will be similar to the BREEAM method; Designers should use carbon intensive building products (steel, cement) as little as possible, and should rely more on locally sourced, greener materials (timber from UK or ).

But unlike in BREEAM, the GLA is expecting developers to show how they’ve improved their WLC by sourcing materials with a lower carbon footprint. This will be a new challenge for design teams who may not be used to dealing with this consideration at such an early phase in the process.

More responsibility will fall on Site Managers to ensure material wastage is kept to an absolute minimum. And more pressure will be placed on buyers who will need to walk the tight-rope of achieving WLC compliance while still turning a tidy profit.

These proposals from the GLA feature in a pre-consultation draft document which is separate to the New London Plan consultation. We expect the New London Plan will be launched without WLC requirements initially, with these additional requirements being added in at a later date.

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Jon Ponting

Energy & Sustainability Specialist


Jon Ponting

Energy & Sustainability Specialist
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