Marks and Spencer’s proposed redevelopment of their flagship Marble Arch store has been blocked by Michael Gove.
The Secretary of State has decided to refuse plans to demolish the current store on the basis that it would have a ‘significantly detrimental impact’ on the neighbouring Selfridges façade.
Plans to tear down the three current buildings including Orchard House on Oxford Street, despite being accepted by both Westminster Council and the Mayor of London, were criticised by heritage groups favouring a retrofit.
In a 12 page report, the Levelling Up Secretary said the proposals would also harm other heritage assets in nearby conservation areas, which are currently complemented by Orchard House.
The report said: ‘The Secretary of State agrees that when viewed from the other side of Oxford Street and from North Audley Street, the height and appearance of the cornice of the proposed development would be prominent and distracting from the Selfridge’s façade, especially when compared with the deferential appearance of Orchard House.
‘He further agrees that from North Audley Street, the additional storeys of offices would be more apparent, and would add to this distraction.
‘Given the significance of Selfridges… the Secretary of State considers that the harm to designated heritage assets in this case carries very great weight.
While acknowledging the potential benefits of development in a prominent area as well as employment opportunities, these were outweighed by concerns over the high carbon impact of the demolition.
M&S submitted the application to build a new flagship store in place of the current 30s building in 2020, which it told a public inquiry in October was no longer ‘sustainable or viable’ to use.
Gove’s decision to refuse permission because of the impact on Selfridges comes despite the department store supporting the scheme last year.
The retailer described the decision as ‘a short-sighted act of self-sabotage’.
Stuart Machin, CEO for Marks and Spencer said: “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. “
Mr Machin rejected suggestions that the project was unsustainable, saying that the company had looked into sixteen options for renewing the site including retrofitting, but concluded they were unfeasible.
In light of Mr Gove’s decision, the store would ‘review its future position’ on Britain’s premier high street.
“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.
‘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.”