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M&S goes to war with Michael Gove over flagship Oxford Street store

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M&S oxford street - Charlotte Ball/PA Wire
M&S oxford street - Charlotte Ball/PA Wire

Marks & Spencer has attacked a decision by Michael Gove to halt the redevelopment of its flagship Oxford Street store as “political grandstanding”.

The retailer had secured approval from Westminster City Council and the Greater London Authority to demolish the Art Deco landmark and build a new 10-storey retail and office block.

However, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has seized control of the planning application amid concerns about the environmental impact.

Sacha Berendji, group property director at M&S, said the company was “bewildered and disappointed at Michael Gove’s baseless decision” and accused the Levelling Up Secretary of “political grandstanding”.

He added: “For a government purportedly focused on the levelling up agenda, calling in this significant investment in one of our most iconic shopping locations will have a chilling effect 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.”

A DLUHC spokesman 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.”

The intervention comes after Mr Gove issued a so-called Article 31 order forcing developers to put the project on hold.

It will now be referred to a public inquiry overseen by the independent planning inspector, which will present its recommendation to the Government. The process is expected to take at least six months.

Campaigners have lobbied against the plans, citing concerns about the amount of carbon released during the construction process.

Simon Sturgis, an architect and adviser to the Greater London Authority, has warned the redevelopment would produce around 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide before the new building even came into use.

Henrietta Billings, director of Save Britain’s Heritage, described the intervention as “great news”.

She added: “Save strongly believes there’s no need to demolish this historic M&S building. Through our campaign we’ve shown that with a comprehensive retrofit, this building can continue to serve as a landmark on Oxford Street for the next 100 years.”

M&S, however, pointed to a review by independent environmental consultants, which found the new, low-carbon building would more than offset any emissions from the redevelopment.

The retailer said it was confident in this analysis, which also stated the new building would be among the top 10pc buildings in London for sustainability.

It is understood it will take about 16 years for the building to make up for the initial damage to the environment.

The dispute highlights the conflict between Mr Gove’s levelling up agenda and the Government’s broader net-zero ambitions.

Property experts have warned of a “ticking time bomb” as landmark decisions such as the M&S building set the precedent for the Government’s future approach to real estate planning.

Mr Gove last year blocked the 305-metre Tulip tower in the City of London, partly on environmental grounds, while he is also due to decide whether to intervene in a £400m project to redevelop ITV’s former South Bank studios.

The Government has said it will only call in applications when they involve planning issues of more than local importance.

Dee Corsi, chief operating officer at the New West End Company, said: “Securing a bright and prosperous future for Oxford Street requires high levels of investment and development.

“It is vital that the council and businesses redouble efforts to work together to deliver the long-awaited public realm investment, and ensure progressive planning and licencing policies are in place to enable businesses to respond to changing customer trends, by delivering innovative and future proof buildings that are fit for purpose for a revived, dynamic high street.”

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