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December 21, 2023

City of London's 'Retrofit First' for Sustainable Urban Development

City of London's 'Retrofit First' for Sustainable Urban Development

The City of London Corporation's planners have unveiled a pioneering proposal that could reshape the landscape of redevelopment in the iconic Square Mile. The 'Retrofit First' policy, outlined in the new Sustainability Supplementary Planning Document, urges developers to prioritise retrofit and reuse when planning redevelopment projects. This initiative aligns with the Corporation's ambitious net-zero plan, aiming to make the city carbon-neutral by 2040. As the proposed guidance enters the consultation phase, it sets the stage for a comprehensive transformation in the city's approach to construction and urban development.

The Five Pillars of Sustainability

The Sustainability Supplementary Planning Document introduces five key considerations that will guide future development within the City of London:

  1. Retrofit and reuse: Developers are urged to explore retrofitting and reusing existing structures as the primary options for redevelopment.
  2. Energy use and 'Whole Life-Cycle' carbon emissions: The guidance emphasises a holistic approach to carbon emissions, considering energy use throughout a building's entire life cycle.
  3. Circular economy in construction and operation: Encouraging a circular economy model, the guidance focuses on reducing waste and maximising the reuse of materials in both construction and operation phases.
  4. Climate resilience: Recognising the challenges posed by climate change, the policy calls for developments to incorporate resilience measures, ensuring longevity in the face of environmental shifts.
  5. Biodiversity and urban greening: The guidance places a strong emphasis on enhancing biodiversity and green spaces within urban environments, promoting a healthier and more sustainable cityscape.

Net Zero by 2040

The City of London Corporation's overarching net-zero plan for 2040 is a bold commitment to combatting climate change and promoting sustainable urban development. The 'Retrofit First' policy plays a pivotal role in achieving this goal by addressing the environmental impact of construction and encouraging more mindful land use.

Consultation and Collaborative Decision-Making

With the proposed guidance now open for consultation, stakeholders, developers, and the public have the opportunity to contribute to the shaping of this transformative policy. The collaborative nature of the decision-making process ensures that the diverse perspectives of those invested in the city's future are taken into account.

Industry Implications

The introduction of the 'Retrofit First' policy and the Sustainability Supplementary Planning Document sets a precedent for sustainable urban development. Developers and construction professionals operating in the Square Mile will need to adapt their practices to align with the new guidelines, marking a significant shift towards a more environmentally conscious construction industry.


The City of London's bold step towards a 'Retrofit First' policy reflects a commitment to sustainable urban development and the ambitious goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. As the proposal enters the consultation phase, the city invites input from stakeholders, signaling a collaborative approach to shaping the future of construction and redevelopment in the Square Mile. If successfully implemented, this policy could serve as a model for other urban centers striving to balance development with environmental responsibility.

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