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M&S launches High Court appeal against Gove’s Oxford Street refusal

Marks and Spencer has launched a legal bid to overturn Michael Gove’s rejection of its Pilbrow and Partners-designed plan to demolish and redevelop its Oxford Street store

The Levelling Up secretary made headlines last month when he overruled a planning inspector’s opinion and threw out the contentious proposals for the retailer’s Marble Arch site.

Sacha Berendji, M&S’s operations director, announced this morning: ‘Today we have launched a legal challenge against the government’s decision to reject our Marble Arch store proposal.

‘We have done this because we believe the Secretary of State wrongly interpreted and applied planning policy to justify his rejection of our scheme on grounds of heritage and environmental concerns.


‘It is hugely disappointing that, after two years of support and approvals at every stage, we have been forced to take legal action to overcome a misguided agenda against our scheme and we will be challenging this to the fullest extent possible.’

The statement from M&S, which this week returned to the FTSE 100 index of Britain’s biggest listed companies for the first time in four years after a surge in the company’s share price, follows Michael Gove’s controversial decision to overrule a planning inspector following a public inquiry late last year.

Setting out his reasons for refusal in a letter, Gove argued that Pilbrow & Partners' 10-storey replacement office-led scheme conflicted with policies on heritage and design, setting what many believe will act as a major precedent for the property and construction sector.

Gove specifically highlighted the embodied carbon impact and waste involved in the plan, a consideration raised extensively by the AJ’s RetroFirst campaign and by SAVE Britain’s Heritage at last year’s public inquiry.

Although the plans had been approved by both Westminster City Council and London mayor Sadiq Khan, the application was called in by the Secretary of State last summer.


In his decision letter, Gove said he disagreed with M&S’s argument that there was no viable and deliverable alternative to demolition, arguing that the project was not compatible with the transition to a low-carbon future and the need to reuse existing buildings and materials. The new-build scheme would have released around 40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in terms of the immediate impact.

In his immediate response to the news, M&S chief executive Stuart Machin described Gove’s decision as ‘unfathomable’, especially when other demolition-led developments around the site had been waved through. He added: ‘The suggestion the decision is on the grounds of sustainability is nonsensical.’

Pilbrow & Partners founder Fred Pilbrow had expressed shock at the decision, branding it ‘bizarre’. He told the AJ: ‘How can a planning system that charges no less than three separate authorities – Westminster City Council, the Mayor of London and now the planning inspector – to determine one application, simply overrule their unanimous conclusions?

‘Gove heard none of the evidence first-hand. I hope his decision will be vigorously challenged by M&S.’

Responding to the firm’s latest move, Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, said: 'This public inquiry raised highly significant national issues about the way we build, the wasteful demolition of perfectly good buildings and the future of our high streets.

'Our case generated widespread public support and media attention. Michael Gove made the right decision in dismissing the M&S demolition proposals and we hope that the Secretary of State and his department resolutely defend this case. We are considering our next steps and have every intention of maintaining our position.'

Architect and zero carbon expert Simon Sturgis, who acted for SAVE at the inquiry as an expert witness, accused M&S of being out of touch.

He said: ‘M&S continue to fight last century’s battles. We are now in a world of net zero, where there is no place for this sort of carbon extravagance.

‘They have also abandoned their own Plan A sustainability principles, which complain about construction waste. M&S should show imagination and develop a genuine low-carbon scheme for reusing the existing buildings.’


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