Angry Marks and Spencer directors have launched an extraordinary attack on Michael Gove, saying they are “bewildered and disappointed” at his decision to review a planned rebuild of its flagship store in London’s Marble Arch.
The retailer accused the levelling-up secretary of “political grandstanding” by calling in plans to demolish the Art Deco building and replace it with a smaller shop, offices and a gym.
M&S’ plans have already come under scrutiny, despite being granted approval by Westminster City Council.
An independent report by architect Simon Sturgis said the plans were “absolutely crazy” and that demolition would cause a huge carbon footprint.
M&S director of property, technology and development, Sacha Berendji, said: “After two years of working with Westminster City Council, the GLA and the local business and resident community which has supported the development at every stage, we are bewildered and disappointed at Michael Gove’s baseless decision to call in the proposed redevelopment of our Marble Arch site.
“The secretary of state has blocked the only retail-led regeneration in the whole of Oxford Street in a building which was refused listed status due to its low design quality and, while safe, cannot be modernised through refitting as it’s three separate buildings containing asbestos.”
Mr Berendji added that Mr Gove is more concerned with “stores hawking counterfeit goods” than the “regeneration of the nation’s favourite high street.” He also addressed concerns about the carbon impact of the refurbishment stating that the new building will offer “significant sustainability advantages” in the long term.
“For a government purportedly focussed on the levelling up agenda, calling in this significant investment in one of our most iconic shopping locations will have a chilling affect for regeneration programmes across the country at a time when many town centres are being left behind and the property market is ever more precarious,” Mr Berendji said.
He added: “All the while this political grandstanding goes on we cannot get on with creating a better place to shop for our customers, a better place to work for our colleagues, and a better public realm for the community in a store that would use less than a quarter of the energy required by the existing buildings.”
Campaigners from SAVE Britain’s Heritage and the Architect’s Journal urged Mr Gove to launch a public inquiry into the scheme in a letter signed by top names in the industry. The letter claimed bulldozing the historic building would “pump nearly 40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere”.
It also said: “We believe the overall strategy for this site is wrong, with a development which is environmentally wasteful, destroys an elegant and important interwar building and, many feel, negatively affects Oxford Street and its wider West End neighbourhood. We should be adapting the building, not destroying it.”
A department for levelling up and communities spokesperson said: “This is a disappointing and misleading statement from M&S. Call-in decisions are made in line with established policy. It is right that a project of such significance should be considered by the independent planning inspectorate and ministers.”