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Marks & Spencer is blocked from demolishing its Marble Arch store

Lauretta Roberts
20 July 2023

Marks & Spencer has been refused permission to demolish its Marble Arch store – after an inquiry into its plans to redevelop it was launched by Communities Secretary Michael Gove – and is now considering whether it will leave the site altogether.

The retailer had previously been given permission to demolish the Art Deco building and replace it with a modern new store along with office and leisure facilities. However following objections from environmental groups and heritage campaigners, Gove stepped in.

This morning a decision was made to reject the plans citing the potential harm to nearby landmarks, including the historic Selfridges department store which was opened in 1909 (Selfridges itself, however, had spoken out in support of the scheme). The inquiry also cited environmental concerns and stated that Marks & Spencer's scheme did not make sufficient use of the existing building, despite the plans gaining the support of Gove's adviser David Nicholson.

An rendering of the proposed new site

M&S had previously argued that there was no reason why the store, first opened in 1930, could not be demolished since it was not listed but the retailer is now being urged to redevelop the existing buildings rather than walk away from for good.  Cllr Geoff Barraclough, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet member for planning and economic development, said: “The Marks & Spencer application had significant implications for the environment so it was right the case should be tested robustly. The Council’s position is to encourage landowners to refurbish buildings, not demolish them

“Clearly this is a disappointing day for M&S but we hope they return with a revised scheme which meets the new tests presented by the climate emergency. Footfall on Oxford Street is improving and with our exciting plan for an overhaul of Oxford Street just launched, M&S can remain a powerful presence.”

Marks & Spencer CEO Stuart Machin described the decision as "unfathomable" and said the retailer was now reviewing its position to remain at the site. The retail boss issued a strongly worded statement in response to the decision.

“After a two-year process where our proposals were supported at every stage, our investment in 2,000 jobs, building one of the most sustainable buildings in London, improving the public realm and creating a flagship store, is now effectively in the deep freeze. Today the Secretary of State has ignored his appointed expert David Nicholson who recommended approval of our scheme.

"When 42 of the 269 shops on what should be our nation’s premier shopping street sit vacant, disregarding the expert opinion and approval of the appointed planning inspector and playing to the gallery by kiboshing the only retail-led regeneration proposal is a short-sighted act of self-sabotage by the Secretary of State and its effects will be felt far beyond M&S and the West End. It is particularly galling given there are currently 17 approved and proceeding demolitions in Westminster and four on Oxford Street alone, making it unfathomable why M&S’s proposal to redevelop an aged and labyrinthian site that has been twice denied listed status has been singled out for refusal.

"The suggestion the decision is on the grounds of sustainability is nonsensical. With retrofit not an option – despite us reviewing sixteen different options – our proposed building would have ranked in the top 1% of the entire city’s most sustainable buildings. It would have used less than a quarter of the energy of the existing structure, reduced water consumption by over half, and delivered a carbon payback within 11 years of construction. It is also completely at odds with the inquiry process where the analysis on sustainability, including from independent experts Arup, was accepted.

"We cannot let Oxford Street be the victim of politics and a wilful disregard of the facts. At a time when vacancy rates on what should be the nation’s premier shopping street are 13% higher than the average UK high street and Westminster Council is pleading for help in managing the growing proliferation of sweet shop racketeers, the Secretary of State has inexplicably taken an anti-business approach, choking off growth and denying Oxford Street thousands of new quality jobs, a better public realm and what would be a modern, sustainable, flag-bearing M&S store.

"There is no levelling up without a strong, growing Capital city, but the ripple effect extends well beyond Oxford Street. Towns and cities up and down the country will feel the full effects of this chilling decision, with decaying buildings and brownfield sites now destined to remain empty as developers retreat. The nation’s fragile economic recovery needs Government to give confidence to sustainable regeneration and investment as well as following due process; in London and across the UK. Today the Secretary of State has signalled he is more interested in cheap shot headlines than facts and if it weren’t so serious it would be laughable.

"We have been clear from the outset that there is no other viable scheme – so, after almost a century at Marble Arch, M&S is now left with no choice but to review its future position on Oxford Street on the whim of one man. It is utterly pathetic.”

Machin also released a series images showing the poor state of the buildings (above) to underline his case as to why the retailer had believed that demolition was the only choice. M&S had hoped to replace the main store and two neighbouring buildings with a 10-storey edifice comprising offices, a revamped store and leisure facilities. It had previously described the site has being "riddled" with asbestos and said that while it wanted to demolish the store some 95% of the existing materials would be recovered, recycled or reused in the new building.

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