M&S oxford street

Source: M&S

M&S’s proposed new building

M&S CEO Stuart Machin has launched a blistering attack on levelling up secretary Michael Gove after he rejected the retailer’s plans to demolish and rebuild its flagship Oxford Street store.

M&S’s proposal to knock down the 93-year-old art deco building near London’s Marble Arch and replace it with a modern retail and office complex had been approved by Westminster council.

But following opposition from heritage and environmental campaigners, the decision was called in last year by Gove, who launched an inquiry.

The plans were rejected by Gove today on the grounds the public benefits would not outweigh harm to nearby heritage sites, including the Selfridges department store and conservation areas.

Machin said M&S would now be forced to review its position in London’s most famous shopping destination and accused Gove of making a decision that would damage high streets up and down the country in pursuit of “cheap shot headlines”. He said Gove had ignored his own expert advisor and acted on a “whim”.

“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,” said Machin shortly after the decision was published.

“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 16 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.”