Time for a Refurb and Retrofit Revolution
22 February 2021

Under our current system VAT is chargeable on refurbishment of buildings but not demolition and new build, which the green party identify as a misalignment of tax policy with our climate commitments. They are calling for VAT on refurbishment which substantially reduces carbon emissions to be slashed to 0 percent in a new parliamentary petition:


stage 2

There are two stand out reasons to incentivise the renovation of our existing buildings particularly in comparison to demolition and new build. Firstly, refurbishment avoids huge amounts of embodied carbon compared to demolition and new build. Secondly and arguably much more importantly it simply isn’t possible to meet our climate change commitments without slashing the emissions coming from heating our existing building stock. These are far and away the biggest source of emissions in the built environment, dwarfing those of new build. We will only meet our climate commitments through a comprehensive improvement of the existing building fabric alongside a switch to low carbon heat sources.

At GRID architects we have demonstrated the potential of refurbishment with projects such as Vantage Point, for Essential Living and we are currently working on the refurbishment of the iconic Dolphin Square for AXA IM, bringing around 1,250 homes built in the 1930’s up to 21st century standards. But the refurbishment revolution will have to work across every scale of building and good policy should provide different incentives to suit individual homeowners, public institutions and large forward-thinking developers.

Furthermore, rather than seeing the challenge as a competition between new build and refurbishment we need to see this as a mission to accelerate the refurbishment of our existing building stock in tandem with new build; Not so much about slicing up the construction pie differently but growing a much bigger pie, at a scale and ambition to match the challenge. This will come about of policy makers see that the enormity of this challenge is also an unparalleled opportunity for the nation. A well-designed mission-oriented policy framework could create a huge new sector of economic activity and employment across the country, more vital than ever in the post-covid period of recovery.