Clarion’s calling

14/08/19

What is the circular economy and how is it shaping the future of London’s built environment, asks Clarion Housing, the UK’s largest housing association.

In the world of the built environment, new homes and place-making there is a quiet revolution underway. The term circular economy has made the jump from academia, a handful of influential books and think-tanks, and into the mainstream.

To reinforce that mainstreaming, you only have to look at the new draft London Plan. The final version looks certain to include a requirement for circular economy statements for all referable schemes (those that need GLA review before planning can be secured).

Those statements will need to confirm how constructors will:

• Conserve resources, increase efficiency and source ethically

• Design to eliminate waste (and for ease of maintenance)

• Manage waste sustainably at the highest value

Alongside a suite of new design policy require- ments (including designing for disassembly) it’s clear that if you want to build anything in London at even moderate scale, you will have to adapt. For an industry that is responsible for 59% of the UK’s total 202 million tonnes of waste (DEFRA, 2018) a significant change is required.

But what do we mean by circular economy? There are many definitions but one of the better ones comes from The Waste and Resources Action Programme: “A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.”

This circularity is a principle Clarion embraces through our £2.6billion regeneration programme. We recognise the importance of the approach for the communities we serve. But we also acknowledge our responsibility as the UK’s largest social landlord to help steer our industry in a direction which better recognises the need to retain finite resources and think about the impact of our activities in much longer timeframes. Our regeneration programmes, with a particular focus on the 1,800-home High Path project in South Wimbledon, give us an ideal opportunity to begin to apply those principles.

As you might expect of a social landlord, our own take on the circular economy includes not only the emphasis on waste reduction and design seen in the new London Plan, but also social value – supporting community reuse projects, meanwhile strategies for underused spaces, promoting sharing economy initiatives and actively promoting higher rates of household and community recycling.

Embedding these sometimes competing aspirations (designing highly efficient new buildings whilst at the same time allowing for their deconstruction into their component parts in 80 or 90 years time is a quandary for architects) will in some cases be a case of trial and error. But learning and doing better next time is in itself a circular activity.

We will not be alone in this learning. All major procurement for Clarion regeneration activities now includes specific questions and expectations around circular economy. We are looking for suppliers and partners who embrace these same principles and learn and share learning alongside us and the communities we serve.

Perhaps most positive of all has been the reaction of residents who are often far more aware of and concerned about these issues than many in our industry, asking the awkward questions and pushing for better answers. So as we celebrate all that is wonderful in London’s built environment during Open House Weekend, it is Clarion’s belief that the circular economy has a very significant contribution to make to the future of London. It really is an idea whose time has come.

Find out more:

For more information about Clarion Housing click here 

Additionally, search ‘Clarion Circular Economy Strategy Merton’ to learn more about Clarion’s South Wimbledon regeneration plans.