Blog: The City’s Sustainability SPD – Balancing net zero and economic competitiveness by Peter Twemlow

31 Jan 2024

DP9 Director Peter Twemlow discusses The City of London Corporation’s Sustainability SPD.

In the middle of a busy December in the City of London, and nationally, in terms of planning policy publications and updates, the Corporation gave the green light to move towards the adoption of their ‘Planning for Sustainability’ Supplementary Planning Document (“SPD”). Prepared by the Corporation’s planning team, led by Kerstin Kane, and working closely with Buro Happold, the SPD was applauded by Members of the Planning & Transport Committee as being a “fantastic”, “absolutely excellent”, “impressive” and “extraordinarily detailed” document. The decision was taken, with unanimous support, to move the SPD forwards with public consultation (including meetings and workshops) this Spring, ahead of further updates and then adoption during the Autumn.

Planning & Transportation Committee Chairman Shravan Joshi was clear that sustainability is an important subject for the Corporation to address and that the SPD, alongside other policy and engagement activities (including the ‘Skills for a Sustainable Skyline’ initiative) was “breaking new ground” and paving the way for where other Boroughs and Authorities would be expected to go.

At the heart of the SPD, and fully bought into by Officers and endorsed by Members, was and is the need to “work collaboratively with” and “support” Applicants, and also from the outset during pre-application discussions. This tested approach of Officers and Applicants working closely has helped refine a number of ‘exemplar’ case study schemes, referred to in the SPD, which excel in certain ways in terms of their sustainability characteristics. This includes, but is absolutely not limited to, 85 Gracechurch Street’s façade and structural reuse approach, 115-123 Houndsditch’s shared waste heat network with the neighbouring Middlesex Street Estate and 2-3 Finsbury Avenue’s energy efficient design approach, reducing heat loss / gain, incorporating natural ventilation and maximising daylight. During the Committee meeting, Kerstin Kane pointed to the importance of the “insights gained from 3 years of detailed negotiations” and Shravan Joshi to ‘front loading’ discussions with Applicants at the pre-application stage to avoid the need to revisit things in the future. The Corporation does this well, and the SPD, alongside the emerging City Plan will help to formalise this. A number of Members were keen to demonstrate that the Corporation is not compromising  on the need to ensure very high sustainable standards and maintaining the City of London’s economically competitive status and ambitions. The Chairman noted that the SPD (and wider City of London policy approach) is careful to get this balance right and not go too far one way or the other. This should and will be welcomed by those looking to invest in the City of London.

As part of the Members debate and Q&A with Officers, other important points were made:

  1. Developers are very keen for new buildings to meet their own high sustainability standards.
  2. Whilst there is a clear ‘retrofit first’ approach, this is not definitely not ‘retrofit only’ and this is central to the City of London’s thorough optioneering approach including third party review process.
  3. The financial viability and cost of meeting such requirements (set out in the SPD and to be reflected in the emerging City Plan) needs to be better understood, by Members, Officers and Applicants.
  4. The onus on smaller developments to meet requirements (both planning application requirements and operational requirements) is different to that on larger, ‘major’ developments, and this is set out in the SPD.
  5. It is important to think further about how, through the SPD and other means to manage and control post-planning, operational performance of buildings where this responsibility falls on tenant fit out and use (rather than the Applicant or developer).

The SPD was fully supported by Members, who resolved unanimously to agree to the next steps and its progression to public consultation in the next few months.

Read more on the Sustainability SPD and the Committee papers here.

Further reading:

Blog: Bringing café culture to the City by Gareth Roberts

Blog: Is London’s post pandemic recovery ‘clobbering’ New York? By Alexander Jan


Peter Twemlow

Director, DP9