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Calls For New National Policy As M&S Wins Appeal To Knock Down Marble Arch Store

M&S Operations Director Sacha Berendji said the judgment "couldn't be clearer."

The Westminster Property Association has called for a clear national policy about demolition versus refurbishment following a Marks & Spencer high court judgement. 

The body represents the West End’s property developers and investors. It called for the clearer policy in the wake of the long-running dispute over the future of the Oxford Street flagship store, which partly revolved around the sustainability arguments around demolition and retrofitting.

It said that the judgement underlined that "complex cases require balanced consideration" and said that they should not be decided by "political whim."

"The case has become a lightning rod for debate around refurbishment and redevelopment and what happens next could have a huge impact on investment into towns and cities across the UK," Westminster Property Association Chair Marcus Geddes, who is also a managing director at Landsec, said in a statement.

"There is an urgent need for clear national policy on how developers and planners alike should approach complex cases such as this to avoid needless and costly delays and ensure we can revitalise towns and cities, create jobs and drive growth.

"Supporting investment in the country’s building stock is essential if we are to work collectively to address climate change. We hope the Secretary of State takes note of this judgement and allows due planning process to take its course without further delay."

Its plea came after retailer Marks & Spencer won its appeal to overturn the government’s decision blocking the demolition of its flagship store at the western end of Oxford Street.

In the ruling, Justice Nathalie Lieven said that the government had made a series of errors when it blocked the plans. She ruled in favour of the retailer and said that the government had misapplied planning policies in making its decision.

M&S had submitted proposals to completely rebuild its store at Orchard House, near Marble Arch, and replace it with a nine-storey structure that would include a new department store, a café, a gym and offices.

In June 2022, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove made the decision to reject the proposal, rather than the local council, which had supported the plans along with the Greater London Authority. Gove blocked the scheme, arguing that the building should be refurbished rather than replaced, while environmental campaigners had argued that knocking down the existing building was not a sustainable approach.

As a result, Gove refused planning permission in July 2023, overruling a government planning inspector who had given approval for the plans in February of the same year.

M&S had countered that it was not economically viable to refurbish the existing structure and that instead it would be forced to close the store completely.

After being given leave to appeal in November 2023, M&S CEO Stuart Machin described the original refusal as "bewildering" and said that the company had been "clear from the very start that the refurbishment of the existing store was not possible."

"This is only the first step in the lengthy process of overturning the government’s senseless decision to reject our Marble Arch proposal," he added.

M&S has the potential to start work on one of the biggest retail projects on Oxford Street as the company goes through a major five-year plan to reformat its real estate portfolio. The government could appeal the high court's decision.

"Today’s judgment couldn’t be clearer, the Court has agreed with our arguments on five out of the six counts we brought forward and ruled that the Secretary of State’s decision to block the redevelopment of our Marble Arch store was unlawful," M&S Operations Director Sacha Berendji said in a statement. 

"The result has been a long, unnecessary and costly delay to the only retail-led regeneration on Oxford Street which would deliver one of London’s greenest buildings, create thousands of new jobs and rejuvenate the capital’s premier shopping district.

"The Secretary of State now has the power to unlock the wide-ranging benefits of this significant investment and send a clear message to UK and global business that the government supports sustainable growth and the regeneration of our towns and cities."