Demolition of M&S flagship store blocked by government

Michael Gove, the UK’s Housing and Communities Secretary, has blocked the demolition of Marks & Spencer’s flagship store on London’s Oxford Street because of environmental concerns about embodied carbon. Just days ago the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had given the green light to the controversial plan to replace the 1930s Art Deco building with a new ten-storey mixed-use asset.

The existing building on Oxford Street

Gove’s decision to issue an Article 31 holding direction means Westminster Council is prevented from issuing a final decision and the planning process has to be halted until the Government has scrutinised the plans in detail. “A decision will be issued in due course”, a spokesman for the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities said.

Gove reached his decision after reading a highly critical report by Simon Sturgis, an architect, embodied carbon specialist and advisor to The Greater London Authority. According to the report, the scheme would come with an upfront carbon cost of almost 40,000 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of driving a car 99 million miles, further than the distance to the Sun.

Sturgis said the demolition proposals would not comply with national net zero legislation to reduce carbon emissions and would also contravene the London Plan, which is City Hall’s own guidance for new developments and planning applications

What the proposed new building would look like

M&S wants to replace the Edwardian building next to Selfridges, known as Orchard House, with a “new vibrant store fit for modern retail and sustainable office space”. The building would only have two floors of retail, office space above, a gym and a pedestrian arcade. Architects Pilbrow & Partners, who designed the building, said the new building would generate lower emissions than a retrofit and would contribute to the ongoing generation of the Oxford Street area.

“A detailed assessment on the carbon impact across the while lifecycle of the building was undertaken by independent experts who concluded that the new build offered significant sustainability advantages over a refurbishment,” an M&S spokesman said.

The proposal had been approved in November by Westminster Council and then reviewed twice by the Mayor in March and April. Despite a petition not to demolish and the report by Sturgis, Khan decided the demolition could proceed.

Gove’s intervention now puts the proposed redevelopment in doubt. The former Environment Secretary is known to take a keen interest in embodied carbon and last year spoke about the issue in his speech at the Tory Party conference.

“We welcome this decision that suspends planning permission for M&S’s scheme while ministers consider whether to call in the application for public inquiry,” said Save Britain’s Heritage, which commissioned the Sturgis report. “If we allow existing buildings to be demolished and replaced without properly prioritising comprehensive retrofit solutions, we will not meet our climate change commitments.”