Circular London

Circular economy in the United Kingdom

At a national level the UK does not have a circular economy strategy. However, it does embed the principles of circular economy in the National Industrial Strategy. The aim of adopting this approach has been to increase resource efficiencies in the supply chain, production and disposal processes, creating economic savings for industries and business. Thus, the national focus is on circular economy, the modification of businesses models, production systems and restructuring of industrial sectors. The UK economy has grown over the past 20 years. However, the pace of growth has been relatively slow. The circular economy is expected to produce new business models, diversify the industrial base and generate jobs. It is estimated that the circular economy could be worth as much as _£9-29bn a year (Eunomia Research Consulting, 2016) and create 10,000-175,000 jobs across skills levels by 2030 (Voulvoulis, 2015).

A laissez-faire approach to delivering circular economy has been taken by the UK government, which produces a rather fragmented picture. Some companies like Unilever, Kingfisher and M&S have integrated circular concepts into their business models. The British Standards Institution has created a voluntary framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organizations. The Environmental Audit Committee and Local Government Association have called for the public sector to lead by example and include circular requirements into public procurement policy.

Different approaches have emerged across the UK as a result of key policy areas being divided between different bodies, including Defra, BEIS, the Treasury, local authorities and devolved administrations. The focus of the circular transformation process is not spatial but sectoral in nature. Key sectors of interest are construction materials, plastics, food and textiles. In contrast to the rest of the

UK, the Scottish government has a comprehensive strategy for transitioning to a circular economy (Scottish Government, 2016). Zero Waste Scotland is responsible for delivering much of this. There is a Scottish Materials Brokerage Service for recycled materials and a Scottish Institute of Remanufacture.

At a national level there is no clear understanding of the role cities should play in the circular transformation of industrial processes. This may be in part due to a lack of a government department with responsibility for cities. Nevertheless, there are some British cities adopting circular economy strategies, the most prominent being London, Glasgow and Peterborough. The role for these municipalities in delivering their circular economy strategies is as a procurer of circular products and services or enabler in knowledge creation.

Circular London

London mirrors the policy taken nationally. Thus, the focus is on delivering a circular economy, by encouraging the creation of circular businesses and closing resource loops for specified industrial sectors. The motivations for this are economic (i.e. economic growth, diversification and efficiency) and environmental (reducing waste and emissions). It has been forecast that by 2036, the circular economy could provide London with net benefits of at least Xj7bn every year and 12,000 new jobs in re-use, remanufacturing and materials innovation (LWARB, 2017).

London has a waste problem. In 2016, local authorities collected 3,700,000 tonnes of waste. Despite attempts to reduce waste through reuse and repair, the total amount of waste generated in London has only slightly reduced over the last decade. More is being incinerated than ever before, and recycling rates have now dropped back down to 2010 levels. Yet London’s population is predicted to reach 10.8 million by 2041. If Londoners continue to produce the same amount of waste, local authorities will have to collect an extra 1 million tonnes of rubbish each year. Experts have warned that this growth will be unsustainable and put an increasing strain on waste infrastructure, land and resources.

It has been estimated that moving to a circular economy in the capital would reduce material waste by 60% by 2041 (ibid). It is also expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfill and indirect energy consumption (transportation, production, disposal of products and materials). This could help London to achieve the target of moving to zero carbon by 2050 and zero waste by 2026 (ibid). The London’s Circular Economy Route Map was produced by LWARB in 2017.1 The strategy encourages the reuse, recycling and energy recovery from commercial waste, through the transformation ofbusiness models, supply chains, production and disposal processes. It currently focuses on five waste streams - construction, food, textiles, plastics and electronic waste - due to their volume and value.

The role of the GLA in this transformation process is in procuring circular products and services and enabling knowledge creation and sharing. The GLA

Group spends £ billion per year on procurement activities (Greater London Authority, 2017a). It has recently updated its Responsible Procurement Policy (ibid), reflecting the need to procure circular economy services. It aims to in- centivise the development of appropriate supply chains, expertise and business models. The Environment Strategy highlights the need for the GLA to show leadership in implementing circular practices, with the intention to influence other procurement bodies.

The Mayor also plans to support London’s existing and future businesses to develop the skills, knowledge, experience and expertise to be competitive in a low carbon, circular economy. A clean-tech hub will be established in West London, providing workspace, collaborative opportunities and business support (LWARB, 2017). Mechanisms for financing start-ups and for knowledge sharing are being developed. Capacity building for a circular economy is mainly driven by the GLA, LWARB, WRAP and Ellen Macarthur Foundation (EMF) in London. The Circular Economy Club also provides a forum for discussion between businesses and exchange of good practice. However, funding for enabling actions to be taken appears to be limited. The focus here is on commercial waste and facilitating business to change its supply and production models on a voluntary basis.

There are two key waste streams which link circular economy to circular development in London. These are the construction and food waste streams. Tackling both waste streams has implications for land-use and infrastructure and thus for circular development.

Circular construction (looping and adaptive actions)

London’s office space will increase by 5,000,000 m2 by 2030, while over 40,000 units of housing will need to be built annually (over the next 10 years). Infrastructure development in the city is also a high priority, with CrossRail and the Thames Tideway Tunnel currently being built and extensions to the Northern and Metropolitan underground lines planned (LWARB, 2017). Construction, excavation and demolition waste constitute 48% of all waste in London (Greater London Authority, 2011). Tackling the construction waste stream could generate economic growth of between _£3bn and X)5bn annually by 2036 and 600 jobs by 2030 (Mitchell, 2015). The circular strategy prioritises the adaptive reuse of infrastructure (retain structures, refit or refurbish) over the recycling of construction materials (ibid).

The focus of the strategy is on encouraging the organic development of innovative business solutions in the sector. For example, the accelerator programme (run by LWARB) encourages the creation of small start-up companies and enables rapid scaling-up of innovations. The first cohort of start-ups focussed on modularisation, design for disassembly and reuse, technology to prolong asset life, alternative materials and material reuse, turning products into services and the creation of data platforms. The initial start-ups have designed an app for exchanging concrete (Sustainability Cloud); mushroom-based building insulation, which consumes waste as it grows (Biohm); a material for use in building and interior architecture produced from agricultural and food waste (Organic Refuse Biocompound); modular housing, with component tagging and tracking and an online marketplace where components can be traded as part of a circular economy. However, a more strategic, city-regional approach to monitoring, localising and looping construction waste flows appears to be absent.

The Draft London Plan (Greater London Authority, 2017b) has identified 38 opportunity areas (including the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Old Oak Common) as places that will see unprecedented levels of regeneration and development. These projects generate demand for new materials, while the demolition of existing buildings creates large volumes of waste that are typically “down-cycled” to lower grade products. Requirements for supporting the circular economy have been integrated into the London Plan, alongside green infrastructure and climate adapted urban form. This links circular economy directly with circular development. Demonstration projects will be supported by the GLA and local authorities. Indeed, circular principles have already been embedded into the redevelopment of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The Circular strategy aims to build capacity within the construction industry to deliver circular development. Training workshops have been funded by LWARB. A study to identify underutilised buildings in London and encourage greater reuse of vacant spaces is underway. A network of facilities and office managers has been created to integrate circular principles into building operations and enable knowledge sharing. Local authorities are also encouraged to use temporary spaces for circular activities.

Smaller scale demonstration projects are beginning to emerge in London, which test building designs for adaptive reuse or recycling. One example is the PLACE/Ladywell in Lewisham. It is London’s first pop-up village, designed for disassembly and re-assembly. It provides temporary accommodation for people on the housing waiting list and space for co-working. It has been constructed on a vacant site. The buildings comprise prefabricated, modular, highly energy efficient pods, designed to be dismantled and relocated within the borough when the whole site is redeveloped. This approach provides one potential solution to the housing crisis in London, whilst reducing construction waste.

Circular food (looping, ecologically regenerative and adaptive actions)

Over 8 million tonnes of food is consumed in London per year by the city’s 8.6 million residents (GLA, 2015a), around 1 million daily commuters (GLA, 2015b) and almost 17 million annual overseas tourists (ibid). Approximately 20% ends up as waste. More London boroughs (70%) are collecting food and green waste than in the past (ibid). However, London urgently needs to introduce or extend food waste recycling in its high-density housing stock. With tightening budgets, local authorities are often guided more by financial than by environmental concerns. Separate collections reduce food waste, but they are more expensive.

London also urgently needs new treatment facilities for organic waste (GLA, 2015b). The GLA aims to increase anaerobic digestion of food waste, to produce methane, which can be used in energy generation, heating and transport. It is estimated that the anaerobic digestion of food waste could save 175,000 tonnes of C02e emissions and /[120,000,000 in disposal costs per annum by reducing waste going to landfill (ibid). Currently, less than 50% of London’s food waste is processed in the capital (ibid).

There are only two plants which convert food waste within the M25 - Riverside Anaerobic Digester (Croydon) and London Sustainable Industries Park (Dagenham). Both use food waste to produce energy and Riverside also produces biogas. There are also four large-scale composting facilities.2 As a growing city, London will require more facilities to process 1 million extra tonnes of food and green waste. The Mayor is encouraging the development of further waste treatment facilities; however, financing these facilities is a problem. The GLA could potentially offer some of its landholdings to enable, or directly provide, waste infrastructure, such as food waste processing plants.

The GLA has set a target to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030 (GLA, 2018b). This will lead to a significant reduction in the core materials associated with food packaging,3 which collectively make up around 75% of municipal waste. The circular strategy advocates prevention, reuse (i.e. redistribution to those in need - foodbanks, animal feed), recycling (i.e. composting and anaerobic digestion) and energy recovery (i.e. combustion). It also advocates local food production as a way of closing resource loops locally (i.e. using food waste as compost). The latest estimates for London’s net benefits from circular food economy opportunities are that they could add /[2-4 billion annually to GDP by 2036 (LWARB, 2015).

London has a food strategy and various schemes to reduce food waste (e.g. Social Supermarkets, Food Save, Trifocal) and encourage food growing projects (e.g. Capital Growth, Incredible Edible). The London Food Strategy (GLA, 2018b) advocates the allocation of space by local authorities for urban farming in the capital. The GLA has highlighted the importance of including food growing spaces in new housing developments and as a temporary use on vacant or underutilised sites in the New London Plan. It also encourages local authorities to protect existing food growing spaces including allotments and promote urban greening in their local development plans.

The GLA provides funding towards the Capital Growth programme and supports other food growing networks to help promote the health, economic, environmental and community benefits of food growing. The funding will help maintain the network of over 2,500 food growing projects. The GLA recognises the contribution that food growing plays encouraging social enterprise and job creation in the food sector (e.g. Sustain’s Roots to Work programme).

The GLA also works with organisations to develop bids to the Good Growth Fund, which is committing /[70,000,000 investment by 2021 to support regeneration in London. The fund supports investment in the emerging nature-friendly urban farming sector, helping London to become a pioneer in urban agriculture and circular economy. This is further supported through public procurement contracts with local urban farmers. Urban farming is helping to ecologically regenerate London. It also increases the communities’ ability to adapt to food shortages by increasing sufficiency. Like circular construction, it is central to a circular economy, but also affects the circular development pathway in London.

Circular development in London

The London Plan is the most appropriate vehicle for operationalising circular development. It sets out the three circular actions (looping, ecological regeneration and adaptation) separately, but does not indicate the synergies between them. It allocates land for “low value” circular activities (e.g. for urban farming, storage and logistics; for secondary materials and waste management and green space). It also supports the provision of sustainable infrastructure (e.g. heat networks, renewable energy, grey-water recycling and rainwater harvesting systems), green-infrastructure (e.g. green roofs, pocket parks) and adaptable infrastructure within strategic developments (e.g. the Olympic site). The London plan requires circular construction principles are adopted for strategic sites (GLA, 2017b). It encourages boroughs to support opportunities to use vacant buildings and land for flexible and temporary uses. The reuse of vacant properties is also encouraged through a tax on empty homes and dwelling management orders. The links between waste, water and energy systems are made in the London Environment Strategy 2018, which could help to encourage the creation of integrated closed- loop systems (as in Stockholm).

However, there are challenges to adopting a circular development pathway in London. The GLA is largely reliant on the UK government to create a regulatory framework and provide the funding required to enable the transformation process. However, the UK government has largely dismantled regulatory frameworks (e.g. zero carbon homes code) and funding mechanisms (e.g. green deal) which could have helped to support circular development. The GLA has limited powers and resources at its disposal. It has limited funds to leverage a circular transformation. But it does have land. It also has responsibilities for transport, waste and spatial planning. The GLA’s powers include regulation, procurement, enabling and provision. In its regulatory capacity, it can set policy targets and produce policies to guide development, the economy and the environment. However, funds are extremely limited. Options for financing sustainable infrastructure (including integrated water, energy and waste systems) are being investigated. One suggestion is to use public pension funds to support the investment. This was a strategy adopted in Sweden to successfully fund the development of 1 million energy efficient homes during the 1970s (Williams, 2012).

Public procurement will be the main lever for driving circular transformation of businesses in the capital. There will also be some limited funds for capital investment and capacity building for SME’s provided by LWARB. Limited financial resources mean the GLA is heavily reliant on other agencies to deliver the circular transformation. The GLA has an enabling role in this process, through knowledge sharing and capacity building. It also has a role in coordinating actions. The number and diversity of actors involved in the delivery of services, infrastructure and the management of resources in the capital create problems with coordination. This is particularly an issue when attempting to create integrated, looping systems, which by their nature cut across infrastructure (e.g. energy and water), services (e.g. waste, water, energy, transport) and industrial sectors. These actors operate within different legal frameworks, across different administrative areas with different goals. This creates problems in coordinating actions and aligning goals.

To illustrate how the circular development manifests in London, two contrasting case studies have been chosen: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (East London) and Brixton (London Borough of Lambeth). The former provides an example of a top-down approach to a circular development. It is a large-scale intervention, which uses a combination of regulation (i.e. planning and contractual agreements) and significant public funding to stimulate the circular transformation of a new urban district. The focus is on innovation in design, technology and industrial processes. In contrast, the Brixton case relies heavily on the community, social enterprises and Lambeth council to deliver circular development. The process is localised, and comprises low-tech, small-scale interventions in the existing community, through a series of grass-root actions. The focus here is on changes in social practices, alternative systems of provision and localisation of resource flows.

Circular Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (QEOP) is a major regeneration project in Stratford, East London. It covers 226 hectares, encompassing land in the London Boroughs of Newham, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Hackney (Figure 4.1). Once complete, the project will generate 40,000 jobs and provide 24,000 new homes. In 2005, the site was identified for the London 2012 Olympic Bid. The bid was successful and the Olympic Development Agency (ODA) was formed to implement the preparations for the Olympic Games. At the heart of the bid was the need to deliver a sustainable games and in the longer term to create a sustainable district in an area suffering from multiple deprivation and environmental degradation. Strategies to deal with demolition and construction waste; temporary structures post-games and attracting long-term, sustainable activities to the site were needed. Thus, a circular approach to development was required.

Originally, the site was fragmented, with a lack of amenities and limited employment opportunities for the local population. The wards in the Lower Lea

Valley were generally within the 10% most deprived in England. These areas had high unemployment, poor health and high crime rates. There was also a severe shortage of affordable housing locally, yet some social housing estates, travellers’ community and the largest housing cooperative in Europe were removed to make way for the Olympic development. Environmentally the site suffered a range of problems. Land uses were generally low-value, interspersed with vacant and derelict sites, creating the appearance of neglect.

Historical usage of the site included oil refineries, chemical works, cold storage facilities, landfills and backfilled reservoirs, car compounds and ware- house/distribution centres. These uses created significant problems with soil and groundwater contamination. The waterways in the area had also deteriorated, having become silted up and overgrown. Moreover, the combined sewer system had insufficient capacity to handle storm-water discharge during peak time; consequently, two overflow points in the area discharged untreated effluent into the River Lea waterway system. The site was fragmented by numerous highways, railway lines and waterways, making accessibility within the area difficult. However, there were a diversity of habitats and species on the site.

During the early phases of development, the focus was on the construction and hospitality industries. Systemic changes were largely achieved through large-scale public funding and application of new environmental standards in contractual agreements, actor engagement in the design process and value added to their business. Post-2012, the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), a mayoral development corporation, was formed to support the ongoing development of the site. It had spatial planning and compulsory purchase powers. It also had a limited budget, relying on public-private partnerships to deliver major projects.

The regeneration project incorporated all three circular actions. Looping actions were integrated into the development process (e.g. recycling construction materials, soil recycling) and operation of the park (e.g. recycling of food/ park waste, recycling black-water and reusing grey-water). The development was designed to be adaptive. For example, the site provided meanwhile spaces for pop-up activities. Temporary structures were built for the games, which were disassembled and relocated post-2012. The ecological regeneration process initiated in the park pre-games (to improve the soil and waterways, create a range of habitats and increase biodiversity across the site) continued post-games. This has increased the area’s ecological carrying capacity and developed the ecosystem services. QEOP’s designation as a park continues to support this process.

Looping actions

To ensure the environmental sustainability of the Games, one of the ODA’s goals was to reuse, re-purpose, or recycle 90% of the soil and material waste at the site. A cut-and-fill strategy was deployed to use excavated materials in foundations beneath several sport venues. This reduced the carbon footprint that vehicles

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

FIGURE 4.1 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Source: Artistic impression produced by Sally Williams.

would have generated by moving contaminated soil from the area. The Olympic Park became the UK’s largest ever soil-washing operation (Atkins, 2012). Contaminated soil was treated using a variety of techniques including bioremediation, soil washing, and chemical and geotechnical stabilisation. Two “soil hospitals” were set up on site (to test, process and treat excavated contaminated soil for reuse). Five soil-washing plants were used to treat a range of contaminants. In the Olympic Park 80% of the soil was cleaned and reused for the enabling works (ibid). Beyond the Olympic Park, the soil hospital linked up with projects such as the M25 widening works and the neighbouring Westfield retail development in Stratford to maximise reuse of surplus materials, thus avoiding dumping in landfill.

The recycling of black-water was also trialled in the park. Thames Water established a 7-year R&D project (which ended in 2019) centred on the provision of grey (non-potable) water from the Old Ford Water Recycling Plant (OF- WRP). The plant reclaimed waste effluent (black-water) from the main sewage outfall (the Northern Outfall), and processed it to grey-water standard. It then supplied the surrounding areas through a dedicated network to serve a range of current uses including toilet flushing, irrigation and water cooling. It has supplied on average 75 million litres a year of recycled, grey-water, which reduced the use of potable water by the same amount on site annually. The substitution of grey-water for common water usage activities helped to achieve significant reductions in potable water usage, and provided additional drought resilience for the parklands (LLDC, 2017). The project cost around _£7,000,000 and was funded by the ODA and Thames Water.

Thames Water was contracted to operate the OFWRP and supply grey-water to customers to February 2019 (Thames Water, 2019). Flowever, the scheme ended in 2019. There was uncertainty about potential demand for non-potable water in the QEOP. There were difficulties securing long-term funding for the waterworks, and the financial return for grey-water was significantly less than for potable water. Also the potential for cross-contamination between potable and non-potable systems created a barrier. Thus, Thames Water decided to focus on grey-water recycling and rainwater harvesting systems in new developments. These would be paid for by the developer and property owner, rather than Thames Water. In fact, according to the Environment Agency’s flood attenuation advice (LLDC, 2017), rainwater harvesting was likely to be limited on site. Nevertheless, two developments have rainwater butts in their gardens (Sweetwater and East Wick) and a further development has adopted grey-water recycling (Chobham Manor Exemplar Homes).

The ODA also set an ambitious target to reuse or recycle 90% of the demolition and construction waste produced by the development, which it exceeded. Designing out waste by embedding goals in design briefs, procurement policies and contractual agreements was critical for delivering the reductions. Providing guidance to design teams to indicate how materials could be reused or recycled or to design for future disassembly was critical. Integrating pre-demolition audits with materials management planning was key to reducing demolition waste going to landfill. Waste reduction produced cost savings for the contractors. There was one centre for the management of all construction waste produced on site. This allowed waste to be aggregated and dealt with at scale, thus reducing the effects of transportation, reducing costs and increasing potential markets. Accurate forecasting to enable effective resource management was essential (identifying resource quantities and potential markets). Award schemes to incentivise waste reduction further were also implemented. Approximately 98.5% of construction and demolition waste was recycled, 425,000 tonnes of waste were diverted from landfill and 20,000 lorry movements were saved (LLDC, 2017). Also 22% of the aggregates used on site were from recycled and secondary sources. It is estimated over 20,000 tonnes of new materials were saved through this approach (ibid).

Adaptive actions

Circular thinking was woven into the design and building of the Olympic Park, its venues and facilities. The park provides an example of how, by designing for adaptability from the outset, buildings, products and materials can continue to provide high value return beyond their initial purpose. An Asset Disposal scheme was set up to help contractors reuse items and materials after the Olympic Games by selling them or gifting them to charities and good causes. For example, the nine modular cabins that formed the “High Street” in the Athletes’ Village are now used as a community hub in Hackney Wick. The warm-up running track, which was laid without tarmac so that it could be easily removed, was donated to British Athletics. Colourful rubber matting used on bridges and walkways throughout the park was reused at a primary school in Northern Ireland, and lamp columns were donated to a local skate park. The International Broadcast Centre was designed with a flexible internal layout so it could be reused for many different activities post-games. The MacDonald’s restaurant on site was a modular construction. This allowed it to be disassembled and reused on another site after 2012.

Meanwhile spaces for temporary pop-up activities were also integrated into the development, through the LLDC’s strategy for interim uses. The land was parcelled for different types of temporary uses including green infrastructure, commercial uses, servicing the park and some grass-root activities. Commercial temporary uses included a range of events, such as seasonal fairs, theatre performances, circuses, sports competitions, or less visible commercial lettings, such as open storage or car parking. These activities were expected to help revitalise the park, before phased residential development began. Some of the pop-ups proved popular and have remained. For example, the View Tube built from recycled shipping containers is a temporary cafe. It also provided educational resources for community engagement in the redevelopment of the Olympic Site. The commercial success of the cafe, combined with the limited alternative uses for the site, means the lease has been extended indefinitely. The LLDC produced guidance for grass-root pop-ups (LLDC, 2014), which identified and demarcated sites on the west side of the QEOP, alongside the Lee Navigation Canal, for projects. In the surrounding neighbourhoods, the LLDC has encouraged a range of temporary uses, from community allotments to pop-up shops (Leyton) and from roof gardens (Stratford) to community centres made from recycled construction materials (Hub 67, Hackney Wick). Alongside the more directly managed interim use programme, these uses have been commissioned and supported through calls for proposals and small-scale funding, such as the “Emerging East Commission” and a programme known as “launch pads”. Thus, an adaptable urban fabric has been created.

Ecological regeneration

The ecological regeneration of the area has also significantly benefitted the local ecosystem (Figure 4.2). The QEOP is the largest urban park to have been created in Europe over the last 150 years. The blue-green infrastructure it provides has helped to tackle urban heating and flooding; increased local biodiversity; helped to re-establish natural cycles (e.g. nutrients, phosphates, nitrogen) and enabled carbon sequestration. It has also produced health benefits for those living and working on the site. Green space of at least two hectares can be found no more than 300 metres (5-minute walk) from park residents. This benefits both their mental and physical health. Green corridors have been constructed throughout

Green infrastructure

FIGURE 4.2 Green infrastructure.

Source: London Legacy Development Corporation (2020).

the park. One green corridor is more than 40 km in length, following the River Lee connecting the Green Belt (outer London) to the Thames (inner London). Diverse, natural species have been planted across the park, to increase biodiversity. The green infrastructure index (also used in Stockholm Royal Seaport) is used by developers on site (e.g. Chobham Manor, Sweetwater and East Wick developments) to determine the planting strategies likely to deliver the greatest ecological benefits in new developments.

The QEOP also includes 6.5 km of improved waterways. The River Lea flows through the centre of the park and is an attractive ecological asset to be preserved and enhanced. Several streams diverge around Stadium Island. There are opportunities for further ecological enhancement of these waterways through additional embankment stabilisation. In the North Park and Canal Park areas, sustainable urban drainage components (i.e. rainwater gardens, swales, retention ponds, wetlands) are being fully integrated into the public realm. This does not apply for most areas of the South Park due to the additional flood risk management requirements.

There is a problem with ground water contamination on site. A new bioremediation technique was applied for the first time in the UK to treat groundwater contaminated with ammonia beneath the Olympic Stadium. Archaea - naturally occurring micro-organisms that thrive in extreme conditions and that biologically degrade ammonia — were inserted into boreholes. As Archaea removed the ammonia, several other reagents, including oxygen-released compounds, were injected into other groundwater areas to remove contaminants. Thus, ground water was decontaminated (a process also used in Stockholm Royal Seaport).

The QEOP has acted as a test-bed for a range of processes, design solutions and technologies which are fundamental to a circular development pathway The new processes in place, for reducing construction/demolition waste and for soil recycling, have proved extremely successful. These processes are now being employed on large construction sites across London. In contrast, the recycling of black-water to produce grey-water although extremely successful in terms of reducing the consumption of potable water has not proven financially feasible. Sadly, this will not be adopted more permanently or widely across London. Yet in an area of drought, this looping action should be integral to the system. The problem seems largely to result from the valuation of potable and non-potable water. This example highlights the need for public funding to support such ventures which are in the wider public interest, until infrastructural and valuation systems catch-up.

There have been significant economic and ecological gains from adopting a circular development pathway on this site. However, there have been losses socially. The ejection of the original communities from the site and lack of opportunities provided by the new development for the deprived communities is a significant failing. It should be addressed through policy, regulation (e.g. the planning system), public engagement in decision-making, education and funding. Of course this failure is not integral to the circular development pathway, but it is endemic in regeneration projects. In a circular urban system existing groups should be retained to preserve local social capital and a systems adaptive capacity. Thus, it is essential to have a diversity of employment opportunities, housing tenures and types which cater to the needs of existing and future inhabitants.

Circular actions can produce a diversity of jobs which should help to support a diverse economy and variety of people (again helping to develop the systems adaptive capacity), but this will require skills training (and not necessarily from the elite institutions which are currently planned for the site). Flexible, low cost, low carbon housing which provides warm, affordable accommodation for the low-income groups is also required. Potentially the provision of pop-villages (similar to Lady Well) on site, as a meanwhile use, could also help with the wider housing crisis affecting London.

Circular Brixton

Brixton is an area within the inner London Borough of Lambeth. It has a very diverse population. Today, it is a borough divided by considerable wealth and economic deprivation. During the 1980s-1990s Brixton had several periods of social unrest. Over the past 20 years, it has been going through a process of rapid regeneration, but disparities still exist. In 2007, Lambeth Climate Action Group suggested Brixton should become a Transition Town. There was an increasing public interest in combating climate change and creating a new development trajectory post-peak oil. The group aimed to tackle climate change, increase local self-sufficiency and address local social issues.

Brixton became a Transition Town in 2010. Brixton Transition Town became a community interest company (social enterprise). This was the first stage in a process which led to the adoption of a circular development pathway in Brixton (Figure 4.3).

A local currency - the Brixton Pound - was introduced in 2009 to localise resource flows (including monetary flows), reduce emissions from transport and reinforce the local economy. To be successful it was critical that a substantial amount of the currency circulated and could be used to pay for goods and services locally. The currency could be spent at over 250 businesses in the area. Business rates could also be paid using the currency which incentivised take-up. By 2012 Lambeth Council also paid part of their employees’ wages using the local currency. Usage further expanded in 2013 when an electronic version was established, and customers could pay by text. This combination of actions reinforced the circulation of the local currency.

It was hoped that the local currency would also encourage local circular actions. Some of the businesses in the scheme engaged in circular actions. For example, the Remakery sold upcycled products, Brixton Pound Cafe reused food waste, Brixton Energy generated renewable energy and Loughborough Junction Farm grew food and used compost produced from local organic waste. Some businesses were based in buildings which had been adaptively reused (Remakery),

Brixton time-line. Source

FIGURE 4.3 Brixton time-line. Source: Author’s own.

were built from recycled materials (Pop Brixton) or were on sites which had been reused. Thus, purchases made using the Brixton pound supported these circular activities. Nevertheless, some of these activities failed because they were not commercially viable (e.g. Brixton Pound Cafe).

Alongside the local currency, the key focus for Transition Town Brixton was energy. Brixton Energy was formed in 2011. It aimed to decarbonise the local energy supply and increase the efficiency of local buildings. It worked in partnership with REPOWER London. Local projects for generating solar energy and energetic refurbishment appeared across the borough. The focus was on retrofitting renewable and efficiency technologies in social housing (enabled by Lambeth Council) to address green-house gas reductions and fuel poverty. Four solar projects have been completed to date. Residents generating renewable energy were paid in the local currency, to encourage spending within the local area. Energy could also be bought using Brixton Pounds. Thus, the local currency supported the generation of renewable energy and the local circulation of energy resources.

Transition Town Brixton also wanted to develop a local food system. Local food production in Lambeth proved popular. It was supported by Lambeth Incredible Edible, which was founded in 2010. Loughborough Junction Farm emerged in 2013, after a community action group squatted a contaminated brownfield site (Figure 4.4). Local food production had both ecological and social benefits. It offered valuable ecosystem services in a densely developed borough (ecological regeneration). It also provided the opportunity for local residents to develop valuable horticultural skills and build community networks (building adaptive capacity).

Initially, produce was grown in bags to avoid contamination from the soil. Organic waste from the local cafe and growers was used as compost on site. The food produced was sold in Brixton market and used in the community cafe. Thus, the food-loop was closed. This was one of many local growing projects in Brixton. In 2017, the site was redeveloped for commercial and residential uses. However, the farm was retained at the centre of the development and was subsequently given a 20-year lease. This project provides an example where looping, adaptation and ecologically regenerative actions combine.

Projects for encouraging the recycling and reuse of goods, materials and infrastructure also began to emerge in Brixton. The Remakery was one such initiative

Loughborough Junction Farm

FIGURE 4.4 Loughborough Junction Farm.

Source: Artistic impression produced by Sally Williams.

instigated by Transition Town Brixton as “Remade Brixton”. The Remakery opened in 2016. It was based in a reclaimed underground car park. It offered training for the local community, enabling the reuse and recycling of a range of goods. It was awarded capital funding from Lambeth Council in 2011 and has a temporary lease for 15 years. The idea behind the Remakery was to develop local skills in repair and refurbishment, to reduce waste and create employment opportunities. Co-working spaces were offered to small businesses, start-ups and artists. Members could access the materials, skills workshops and tools needed to repair and refurbish products. Any profit subsidised membership and social programmes for disadvantaged groups in the community. The project enabled the looping of materials and increased the adaptive capacity of the local community.

A further grass-roots development - Pop Brixton - also embodies circular actions. The project was completed in 2014. The buildings were fabricated from recycled shipping containers, designed for easy disassembly and reassembly. It offered cultural and employment opportunities for the local community. It also established a community investment fund offering workshops, training and even work experience for local people. The cafe used locally grown food, helping to close the food-loop locally. The project enabled the looping of infrastructure and land, alongside building the adaptive capacity of the local community (Figure 4.5). Pop Brixton has been a success and received extra funding from the GLA. However, its lease was extended only until 2020.

Pop Brixton

FIGURE 4.5 Pop Brixton.

Source: Artistic impression produced by Sally Williams.

Brixton offers an interesting case study. It takes a grass-root, temporary experimental approach to circular development. The combination of a local currency, a mixture of activities and the close proximity of producers and users of “waste” resources are essential to its success. The projects have had limited support from the GLA. However, the local authority has offered support through allocation of land/property on temporary leases; through the adoption of local currency for paying council workers and business taxes and also through some limited funds allocated by the people of Lambeth. Brixton offers an example of how an existing community might retrofit circular actions, with limited funds, relying less on technology and more on people-power. These small, low-tech interventions have proved successful in terms of their social and ecological objectives. However, the long-term economic viability of some projects is precarious (e.g. Brixton Pound Cafe, Remakery, Loughborough Junction Farm). This is due to heavy reliance on volunteers and the temporary planning permissions. In such a climate, the commercially viable activities run by Repower and Pop Brixton seem more likely to persist.


London does have a circular economy strategy. It is focussed on the creation of circular businesses and industrial sectors in the capital. Nevertheless, through the London plan all three circular actions are addressed (albeit separately). Thus, London does offer examples of circular development. It demonstrates two distinct pathways. The first pathway uses a planned eco-district to demonstrate and test the application of the three circular actions in a new build development (QEOP). The second pathway adopts a grass-root, temporary experimental approach to delivering circular actions in an existing neighbourhood (Brixton). Both cases highlight some of the levers (e.g. planning, public funding and procurement) for circular development. They also highlight that economic challenges create the greatest barrier to circular development in London.


  • 1 A statutory board established by the GLA Act 2007 and chaired by the London Mayor.
  • 2 Ecopark Compost Centre (North London), Rainham Compost Centre (East London) West London Composting and Sutton/ Mitcham composting centre (South London).
  • 3 Paper, card, plastic, glass, tins and cans.
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