Heritage campaigners have started crowdfunding to battle Marks and Spencer’s plans to demolish its 1929 flagship Oxford St store this autumn.
M&S hopes to demolish the Marble Arch building, which it says has “asbestos throughout,” to create a new 10-storey building, with office space and a gym.
A two-week public inquiry in October will assess the merits and detriments of the scheme, as ministers have deemed the plan to be of more than local importance.
SAVE Britain’s Heritage have launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise the £20,000 required for legal fees, with the group planning to argue that the building can be retro-fitted rather than completely razed.
In an opinion column for The Daily Telegraph, M&S boss Stuart Machin argued a green light for the plans would help to innovate the West End shopping destination, which he said was running the risk of becoming a “dinosaur district destined for extinction”.
He dubbed the current structure “a confusing warren of dense structures and misaligned floors,” and said a new site would use less than a quarter of the energy of the present building.
Blueprints were a “bit like replacing a polluting petrol or diesel car with a new electric vehicle,” Machin wrote.
“There is a significant embodied energy component required in the manufacture of the replacement electric vehicle, yet its long-term impact is undeniably beneficial in carbon terms,” he added.
However, heritage campaigners and some of Britain’s leading architects – including London Eye designer Julia Barfield and Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud – have lambasted the design.
SAVE Britain has claimed the proposals would “unnecessarily pump nearly 40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere” as well as seeing the disappearance of “an elegant and important interwar building.”
“In the face of a climate emergency we have to rethink our disposable attitude to buildings,” Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, said.
“[The inquiry] is where the fate of this West End landmark will be decided – and it could change the course of construction in the UK.”
Oxford St was hammered hard during the pandemic, with footfall still around 30 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.
What’s more, a proliferation of US-themed candy shops along the retail heartland have raised eyebrows, with Westminster Council vowing to crack down on claims of tax dodging.
“When I walk down Oxford Street today, I see a stark reality staring back at me,” Machin wrote in his column.
“This is not the time to stand still. It is the time to seize opportunities and show the world that we have a sustainable 21st century vision for our most famous shopping street,” he said.
M&S had said it was “bewildered” by the government’s decision to ‘call in’ plans to bulldoze the Art Deco flagship store on Oxford St.
Approval was clinched from the Westminster City Council and the Greater London Authority however the government said it would postpone the progress of the plans until it could look into them.
In response to the statement from M&S, a Department for Levelling Up, Housing 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.”