Retailer slams government’s ‘misguided agenda’ against spurned redevelopment plans

Pilbrow and Partners_Marks Spencer Marble Arch - Vision

Source: Pilbrow and Partners

Pilbrow & Partners plans for the redevelopment of the Oxford Street store

Marks & Spencer has launched a legal challenge against Michael Gove’s landmark ruling to reject its plans to demolish and rebuild its flagship Oxford Street store.

The retailer said it was taking action because it believed the communities secretary had wrongly interpreted planning policy to “justify his rejection of our scheme on grounds of heritage and environmental concerns”.

The redevelopment, designed by Pilbrow & Partners, was struck down by Gove last month following a high stakes public inquiry which became a cause célèbre for net zero and heritage issues, drawing in voices from across the built environment and beyond.

Aerial view of Pilbrow & Partners' plans for the redevelopment of the Marble Arch branch of Marks & Spencer

Aerial view of the plans

M&S boss Stuart Machin described the decision as “utterly pathetic” and said the firm had been left with no choice but to review its future position on the street.

The plans would have seen the demolition of three buildings currently occupied by M&S, including the 1929 Art Deco Orchard House, and the construction of a 10-storey replacement store and office block.

The case hinged on whether a full rebuild or a refurbishment of the existing store would be more sustainable, with the retailer arguing the greater energy efficiency of the new building would offset the embodied carbon emitted by a rebuild.

In a statement, M&S operations director Sacha Berendji said: “Today we have launched a legal challenge against the government’s decision to reject our Marble Arch store proposal.

“We have done this because we believe the Secretary of State wrongly interpreted and applied planning policy, to justify his rejection of our scheme on grounds of heritage and environmental concerns.

“It is hugely disappointing that after two years of support and approvals at every stage, we have been forced to take legal action to overcome a misguided agenda against our scheme, and we will be challenging this to the fullest extent possible.”

Save Britain’s Heritage, which led the case against M&S’ proposals in the public inquiry, responded that Gove had made the right decision.

The campaign group’s director Henrietta Billings said: “This public inquiry raised highly significant national issues about the way we build, the wasteful demolition of perfectly good buildings and the future of our high streets.

”Our case generated widespread public support and media attention. Michael Gove made the right decision in dismissing the M&S demolition proposals and we hope that the Secretary of State and his department resolutely defend this case. 

”We are considering our next steps and have every intention of maintaining our position.”

The launch of the legal bid comes a day after M&S returned to the FTSE 100 share index, four years after it dropped off the list. 

During the inquiry, the retailer argued that the new building would be in the top 1% of London’s buildings in terms of sustainability and would pay back the carbon lost by demolition within 11 years.

But Gove questioned the reliability of the retailer’s calculations, concluding a rebuild would emit “far more” carbon than a refurbishment until the UK’s energy grid achieved net zero, a benchmark which is not set to be hit before 2035.

Machin described the decision as “nonsensical” and claimed the scheme had been a “victim of politics and a wilful disregard of the facts”.

Save Britain’s Heritage celebrated the refusal as a “massive positive step” for heritage and net zero.

M&S, which has occupied Orchard House and two attached buildings for nearly a century, had received approval from Westminster council in 2021 for the redevelopment.

The plans were later backed by London mayor Sadiq Khan but were called in by Gove last year.

MandS Oxford St

The existing Orchard House