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Gove refuses to demolish and rebuild flagship Oxford Street M&S

In recent news, Michael Gove's refusal to grant planning permission for the redevelopment of M&S's flagship store on Oxford Street has been met with sharp criticism from Stuart Machin, chief executive of M&S.

Described as "a short-sighted act of self-sabotage" and "the victim of politics and a wilful disregard of the facts," this decision has far-reaching implications for both M&S and the wider retail landscape. With sustainability and economic growth at stake, it is crucial to examine the potential consequences of this ruling.

M&S's proposal to demolish and rebuild the flagship store as a 10-floor retail and office block was not just about expanding its physical footprint but also aimed at promoting sustainability. The plan outlined the reuse of 95% of existing materials, employing an extensive urban greening approach and reducing energy consumption significantly. However, despite the company's claims that retrofitting was not viable, SAVE Britain's Heritage advocated for an alternative approach. The outcome of the inquiry, though inconclusive, could not confirm the viability of such an alternative.

Why the controversy?

Machin's insistence that there is no other viable scheme and that the proposed building would rank among the city's most sustainable raises questions about the decision's true motivations. The rejection of the planning permission on sustainability grounds seems "nonsensical" when M&S claims to have explored 16 different options over a two-year period, all supported at every stage.

It has also been pointed out that the impact of this decision could reach beyond M&S and Oxford Street. At a time when the nation's premier shopping street faces vacancy rates 13% higher than the average UK high street, the denial of the proposed development further exacerbates the challenges of economic recovery. As Westminster Council grapples with managing the proliferation of sweet shop racketeers, Gove's anti-business approach is seen as "choking off growth" and denying thousands of new quality jobs and a modern, sustainable, and flagship M&S store to Oxford Street.


It is important to recognise that a thriving capital city is crucial for achieving a balanced and prosperous nation. According to some, the ripple effect of this decision extends well beyond Oxford Street, impacting towns and cities across the country. Decaying buildings and brownfield sites will now remain empty, and developers may withdraw from their revitalisation efforts, thwarting potential economic opportunities for these areas.

Moreover, sustainable development is a key aspect of addressing climate change and fostering a greener future. By rejecting M&S's environmentally conscious plan, the opportunity to create a highly sustainable building in the heart of London has been lost. The potential benefits of reduced energy consumption, improved public realm, and better urban green spaces have been sacrificed in favour of a decision that seems to lack a comprehensive understanding of the long-term implications.

In conclusion, Michael Gove's decision to refuse planning permission for M&S's flagship store redevelopment has ignited controversy and strong reactions. While sustainability should be a priority, it is crucial to assess all available options and consider the potential consequences. M&S's proposal had the potential to transform Oxford Street into a more sustainable and economically vibrant location, but its rejection hampers the prospects for growth and development.

As stakeholders, policymakers, and citizens, it is essential to consider the broader impact of such decisions and strive for a balanced approach that incorporates both sustainability and economic prosperity. Collaboration between the private sector and government bodies is vital to ensure that future developments embrace sustainability, create jobs, and contribute positively to the growth of our cities and towns. Only through a well-informed and forward-thinking approach can we pave the way for a brighter, greener, and economically thriving future for all.

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Charlotte Cooper

Charlotte Cooper

Content Writer at Commonplace