Source: Pilbrow and Partners

The proposed redesign plan by Pilbrow and Partners

Marks & Spencer has defended its plans to demolish its flagship store in London’s Marble Arch as the “right response to the climate emergency” after the government halted the redevelopment over environmental concerns.

M&S’s plan to replace the existing historic building on Oxford Street with a totally new one had previously been cleared by the mayor of London despite criticism by activists, leaving it to Westminster Council to greenlight it.

Last month, Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) stepped in and halted the plans pending further scrutiny after a report on the potential carbon footprint of demolishing the building raised concerns.

Now M&S group property, store development and technology director Sacha Berendji has claimed the renovation plans will “positively impact the environment”.

Berendji said that bulldozing the current site, which is made up of three separate buildings “with poor quality structures and asbestos challenges”, was the most efficient way to tackle its current carbon impact.

“We asked leading independent environmental consultants to make a detailed assessment of the carbon impact across the whole lifecycle of the proposed new building,” he said.

“They concluded that it offered significant sustainability advantages over a refurbishment because over the long term, the modern lower-carbon building will more than offset any emissions from the redevelopment.

“Much like buying an electric car – although there is an initial impact in its manufacture – the long-term benefits far outweigh those of a petrol vehicle.”

He said the new building would be “amongst the top 10% best-performing buildings in London” and use less than a quarter of the energy required by the existing ones.

“We strongly believe the replacement of the three existing buildings is the right response to the climate emergency, providing a better overall carbon footprint within 17 years and sustainability benefits for the next hundred years beyond.”

Read more: M&S’s Marble Arch flagship store redevelopment gets go-ahead from council

Berendji said the existing store was also a “confusing warren of dense structures and misaligned floors”, which was not the environment in which the modern customer wanted to shop.

He said modernising the “old” existing store estate was “at the heart” of the retailer’s transformation strategy.

The Grocer understands that the case is still being considered by the DLUHC. The recent change in administration at Westminster Council from a Conservative to a Labour leadership may also affect the redevelopment plans.

If approved, the new site at 458 Oxford Street will feature a brand new M&S store along with office space and a gym.

M&S said the new Marble Arch design was the culmination of over two years’ collaboration with Westminster City Council, the Greater London Authority and the local business and resident community.

“There is a great deal of local support for our proposals,” Berendji said.

However, the application submitted to Westminster City Council was also met with criticism.

“I strongly object to the loss of this attractive Edwardian frontage,” one person wrote under the city hall’s planning application. “It complements Selfridges and is also an important piece of retail heritage.”

Another said: “The proposal replacement is of middling quality and bland design. It does not make a positive contribution to the character of the area.”