Not just any building: why plans for the M&S flagship store hit a raw nerve | Marks & Spencer

METERMargaret Thatcher was effusive as she admired a £200 cashmere jumper. “That’s adorable. Now that’s what I call an investment,” she commented. The then prime minister was visiting Marks and SpencerThe newly expanded store at Marble Arch in 1987 as shoppers prepared for Christmas. Thatcher was flanked by Lord Rayner, the chairman of the retail store, as she spent nearly two hours touring the store, meeting staff, greeting customers and choosing items.

The M&S store on Oxford Street in the 1930s. Photography: Marks and Spencer

More than three decades later, relations between the high street stalwart and the current Conservative regime are far less cordial, as a dispute over the same store on London’s Oxford Street threatens to become a cause célèbre in the battle for the form of remodeling and destiny. of the main streets of Great Britain.

This week, Michael Gove, the secretary of state for grading, housing and communities, ordered a public inquiry in the plan to demolish and rebuild the flagship store on Britain’s most famous high street.

Campaigners argue the project would release 40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, while M&S says government intervention in its “major investment in one of our most iconic shopping venues” could have “a chilling effect on regeneration programmes.” in all the country”.

The M&S store on Oxford Street in the 1950s.
The M&S store on Oxford Street in the 1950s. Photography: Marks and Spencer

Sacha Berendji, property director at M&S, noted The Oxford Street Fights to fill empty stores as big retailers have pulled out, saying Gove “seems to prefer a proliferation of stores itinerant sale of counterfeit goods to a gold-standard retail-led regeneration of the nation’s favorite high street.”

M&S has renovated other stores, including Cheltenham and Chelmsford, but says it’s not feasible to refurbish the existing Marble Arch store, created over decades from the merger of three unfit buildings, some of which contain asbestos.

Margaret Thatcher visits M&S at Marble Arch in 1987.

The retailer argues that any significant refurbishment of the existing building would create additional carbon emissions without offering as many benefits from its new building. Your planned development is configured to use 25% less energy than the existing site; the benefits, according to its designers, Pilbrow + Partners, will last a century, with a maximum carbon payback of 17 years and potentially less than 10.

That argument won over planning authorities at Westminster council, while London mayor Sadiq Khan opted not to intervene in M&S’s application as in line with the capital’s planning strategy.

With main streets across the country in need of redevelopment to accommodate modern demands as the climate crisis intensifies, the debate over whether problem buildings should be renovated or remodeled it will only get hotter.

The M&S flagship store in 2000.
The M&S flagship store in 2000. Photography: Marks and Spencer

Will Hurst, the managing editor of Architects’ Journal, who backed a letter asking Gove to weigh in on M&S’s Oxford Street plans, has been raising awareness about the carbon footprint of new builds through his Retro First campaign. He says three-quarters of local authorities have now declared a climate emergency, but “many of them haven’t caught up when it comes to planning and development.”

He says that more than a third of the lifetime emissions of a typical office block and more than half of those of residential buildings are used in construction, so for councils with such environmental concerns it will be “silly continue submitting proposals” on new buildings. build

“People are starting to realize the impact of reuse on a large scale, like construction, because they understand it on a small scale,” he says. “They are considering buying second-hand clothes or realizing that they shouldn’t change their smartphone every six months.”

Nicholas Boys Smith, director of think tank Create Streets, says: “Clearly, public expectation and the political process is moving. Change is on the way without a shadow of a doubt.”

Green, but not green enough?  An image of M&S's proposed refurbishment of the Oxford Street store.
Green, but not green enough? An image of M&S’s proposed refurbishment of the Oxford Street store. Photography: Marks & Spencer

With carbon concerns on the agenda, he says there will be “some inconsistency” in decision-making and some boards and developers will get caught up.

M&S’s plans may have attracted national attention, but similar projects nearby, such as the demolition and refurbishment of a House of Fraser store in Victoria, have apparently been approved without much drama.

An entire city center is scheduled to be hit by the wrecking ball at Cumbernauld in Scotland, as is a former Debenhams in Torquay, Devon, while there are battles over plans to bring down a Debenhams in Taunton. An application to demolish another in Harrogate was recently withdrawn.

On Oxford Street alone, some shops have already been torn down and rebuilt. However, the old Debenhams, House of Fraser, Next and Topshop stores are being refurbished rather than demolished.

The M&S store seen in the 1990s.
The M&S store on Oxfords St seen in the 1990s. Photography: Marks and Spencer

Outside of London, there are numerous examples of building redevelopments, including the Jenners Building in Edinburgh and the Hammonds of Hull food hall, which was created within a former House of Fraser.

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, says developers are it is already embracing the circular economy and responding to market demand for more sustainable buildings.” He called on the government to do more to speed up progress, including planning reforms to prioritize the reuse of buildings and a VAT exemption for renovation works.

In Westminster, there may still be a change of direction in the M&S project after the The Conservative administration was ousted by Labor in recent local elections for the first time since its creation in 1964.

Geoff Barraclough, a councilor responsible for planning, said: “The council is serious about reducing the environmental impact of new development by emphasizing the benefits of modernization over demolition.”

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He welcomed Gove’s intervention, saying “all the issues raised by this case can be rigorously tested.”

Henrietta Billings, director of Save Britain’s Heritage, adds: “There are plenty of examples where you can, with a bit of imagination, revisit existing buildings without having to tear them down.

“We have to get to a point where needlessly demolishing buildings is unacceptable because of the environmental costs, where [demolition] it is the last resort instead of the first resort.”

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