M&S demolition, retrofitting and the GLA embracing a circular economy.

2 min readMay 3, 2022

A recent tussle between the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) over whether or not the Edwardian Marks & Spencer’s building on oxford street should be demolished to make way for an uber-modern development has brought retrofitting, whole-life-carbon assessments, demolition and the circular economy into central discourse.

M&S Oxford Street

The proposed demolition and redevelopment of the historic flagship M&S store on Oxford Street would have an upfront embodied carbon footprint of almost 40KT CO2e, which is the equivalent emissions of 8619 petrol cars driving for a year. The argument made by the GLA is that although the upfront carbon is significant, the operational energy usage of the new-build over its lifetime will be significantly less than that of the current building and so the GLA gave permission for demolition to go ahead. However, an intervention by DLUHC has temporarily halted the demolition. The department argues that by preserving as much of the Edwardian building as possible, embodied carbon of the project can be dramatically reduced, whilst lowering the operational emissions to passive house standards.

It’s estimated that the whole-life-carbon of the new-build, compared to refurbishment, will pay off its upfront carbon in approximately 60 years. This refurbishment is based on the current building being retrofitted with heat pumps, a renovated façade and a totally electric internal infrastructure.

In order to stay below our global warming target of 2°C, we need to reach net zero by 2050, in about 27 years.

GLA and the Circular Economy

The GLA however, initially blocked the demolition citing new policies that require all construction (and demolition projects) within metropolitan London to follow standards with regards to limiting their total embodied carbon. This initiative promotes circular economy within the construction planning process, embedding sustainability-led decision making not just into the operations of buildings, but also into end-of-life planning, such as repurposing or demolition and recycling.

This initiative is intended to drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) of the construction industry (or at least the emissions of whoever is under the GLA’s purview); as construction is one of the most polluting sectors on the planet, accounting for roughly 50MTC02e, or more than the combined emissions of aviation and shipping.

Do you think the proposed demolition should go ahead? Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

Written By Neil McLoughlin

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