M&S Oxford Street store

Controversial Oxford Street M&S demolition blocked by UK housing secretary

UK housing secretary Michael Gove has halted the planned demolition of Marks & Spencer's flagship store on London's Oxford Street, which was criticised for wasting the embodied carbon of the existing building, to allow the scheme to be reviewed.

Gove has issued a "direction preventing Westminster Council from issuing a final decision" on the demolition of the art deco Marks & Spencer (M&S) flagship store.

Application will "be assessed against published policy"

The decision, known as an article 31 holding direction, will pause the planning process until the government has gone over the plans for the redevelopment, which has been criticised for environmental and heritage reasons.

"A direction preventing Westminster Council from issuing a final decision on this application was issued on the 14 April 2022, in order to allow ministers to consider whether the application should be 'called-in' for them to determine," a DLUCH spokesperson told Dezeen.

"The application will now be assessed against published policy on calling-in applications and a decision will be issued in due course."

After reviewing the project, Gove can choose for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to call in the application – effectively taking the decision away from the local council – or leave it up to Westminster Council itself to decide on the future of the project.

Decision taken after scheme given go-ahead by London mayor

The intervention follows a decision by London mayor Sadiq Khan earlier this month not to stop the controversial project, which would see the flagship replaced with a building designed by UK studio Pilbrow & Partners.

The plans would see Orchard House, as well as two extensions, torn down and replaced by a mixed-use 10-storey building.

The proposed demolition received widespread condemnation from organisations including the Twentieth Century Society, which said the plan was "incompatible" with M&S' net-zero commitment.

The redevelopment was approved last November and first reviewed on 7 March by Khan, who decided not to intervene despite a petition asking M&S to retrofit rather than tear down the building.

Khan then revisited the plans this month following updated planning guidance on whole-life carbon assessments and determined that demolition could proceed.

New build has "significant sustainability advantages" says M&S

The decision to demolish the building and replace it with a new store will reportedly waste the embodied carbon of the existing building and generate an additional 39,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

But in an interview with Dezeen, Fred Pilbrow of Pilbrow & Partners said that the new building would achieve lower lifetime carbon emissions than a retrofit would.

An M&S spokesperson told Dezeen: "The plans we have submitted to build a new, vibrant M&S store fit for modern retail and sustainable office space has been approved at every stage and strongly supported by the local community as a key part of the regeneration of an iconic part of London."

"As well as attracting new investment and footfall, a detailed assessment on the carbon impact across the whole lifecycle of the building was undertaken by independent experts who concluded that the new build offered significant sustainability advantages over a refurbishment."