M&S has said it will ‘review its future’ on Oxford Street after it was refused permission to redevelop its flagship store.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove dramatically blocked the retailers plans to tear down its Marble Arch store, over concerns it would distract from the neighbouring Selfridges building.
The retailer had previously threatened to leave the Central London site should its plans be blocked during a public inquiry last year.
Its CEO, Stuart Machin, delivered a blistering attack on the cabinet minister on Thursday, accusing him of pursuing ‘cheap shot headlines’ in a ‘short-sighted act of self-sabotage’.
He 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 Gove’s decision was detailed in a report which stated the scheme would have a ‘significantly detrimental impact’ on the neighbouring department store as well as distracting from nearby conservation areas.
Mr Machin claimed the move was ‘anti-business’ and said that M&S would now consider its future on the site, which it has occupied since the 1930s.
He continued: “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.
The chief executive dismissed suggestions that the proposed building was not sustainable enough, saying it would have used less than a quarter of the energy of the existing art deco structure.
“We cannot let Oxford Street be the victim of politics and a wilful disregard of the facts.”, he added.
“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.”
Image: Marks and Spencer.