The London Boroughs 2020 – Viewpoint on Net Zero Carbon

By Hero Bennett

05 May 2020

As Sustainability Leader at Max Fordham, I recently contributed to 'The London Boroughs 2020', a publication by New London Architecture.

The publication illustrates what individual boroughs are doing to implement their local plans. Although each one reflects the needs of its own specific community, one can start to understand the complexity and scale of change that is happening in this great city and the role the boroughs play in its delivery by amalgamating all the maps to create a larger plan. The publication includes various viewpoints on topics ranging from Community to Transport.

You can read my 'viewpoint' on Net Zero Carbon below:

"Declarations of a climate emergency have been racking up over the last year with only seven London boroughs yet to do so. In line with the Government’s own pledge councils are committing to Net Zero Carbon by 2050, 2040 or even 2030. It’s the right rhetoric but subsequent action is too slow; it doesn’t feel so far like there has been the shift in gear that an emergency should inspire.

The next ten years are crucial. Delaying emissions reductions will have catastrophic impacts.

CO2 Emissions across London can be attributed to: 37 per cent residential, 36 per cent commercial and industrial, and 26 per cent transport. Most councils have started on their own estates and operations and are making modest progress. By 2041 around 80 per cent of all trips within London will need to be via low carbon modes. Transport for London’s funding to make streets and public areas more cyclable and walkable in Enfield, Kingston and Waltham Forest, is a great precedent using speed restrictions, new Bikehangars and awareness programmes. Just one year on residents in “Mini-Holland” areas walk and cycle an extra 37 minutes a week compared to elsewhere in London. Part of the approach is improving streetscape; planting more trees therefore helps to indirectly reduce transport emissions as well as sequestering carbon and tackling the biodiversity crisis. Hackney is recognising this by committing funding for an expected 5,000 trees.

 The Mayor’s RE:FIT programme is helping Councils with local initiatives to reduce emissions in existing residential buildings. One of these is Enfield’s ground source heat pump array for eight existing tower blocks; an example of the surge towards heat pumps (fuelled by the new London Plan). Retrofit programmes are slow though. We need a more standardised approach supported by the right technical expertise and thorough commissioning if fuel poverty and CO2 emissions are to be addressed.

New build operational energy is more easily dealt with.  Some pioneering councils are looking at high standards for new social housing. Camden’s Agar Grove is being built to Passivhaus standards and is carrying out post occupancy evaluation to further optimise energy consumption, crucial for delivering low energy in practice. Low carbon planning requirements in high value areas has to date been a powerful tool. However, just as councils have called on Government to provide powers and resources to make their targets possible, the closing Part L consultation would take these away. The new London Plan Policy SI2 also seeks to address upfront carbon emissions. As awareness grows of the importance of embodied emissions, architects and clients are seeking to reduce these crucial emissions, and even exploring commitment to Net Zero Construction under the UKGBC framework.

All targets need managing and Haringey has been a pioneer when it comes to their borough’s emissions. Conducting annual emissions reporting since 2011, they now have the third lowest emissions of any London borough. Some councils are setting up new committees or holding Citizens Assemblies, though with competing demands many councils are struggling to get strong strategies in place. It is essential that they do and that these eventually penetrate to all relevant departments, maybe then we will see more projects being procured, commissioned and managed to be low carbon.

There are some good precedents in place but councils now need to commit much greater funding than they have in the past to back up admirable rhetoric with the coordination and weight a climate emergency deserves."

To download the full book, visit New London Architecture’s website.

Hero Bennett leads Max Fordham's Sustainability Team and splits her time between our London and Cambridge offices. She can be contacted via email at


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