Marks & Spencer condemns Gove

Marks & Spencer’s boss has taken aim at the Communities Secretary’s decision to block plans for the demolition of its flagship store.

Stuart Machin said Michael Gove‘s decision, which went against a recommendation from inspectors to approve the plans, was “laughable” and “utterly pathetic”.

The retailer’s chief executive said the ruling meant that he must now review its future on London’s Oxford Street, considered the prime retail location in the country.

Mr Gove had ordered an inquiry into the company’s proposals that meant knocking down the 1929 Art Deco building near Marble Arch.

M&S wanted to replace it with a much larger 10-storey retail and office block last year after the plans had received support from local authorities.

But the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities confirmed on Thursday that Mr Gove had “decided to refuse permission”.

The government report raised concerns that its public benefits were offset by the potential harm to nearby heritage landmarks and criticised the environmental impact of the redevelopment.

Mr Gove found that additional storeys of offices would be more apparent than the current site and have a “significantly detrimental impact on the setting of Selfridges” department store nearby.

The carbon footprint and failure to reuse some existing resources was also considered a reason for permission to be blocked.

Stuart Machin. Pic: M&S

Image: Stuart Machin says the retailer is now considering its future on London’s Oxford St. Pic: M&S

Mr Machin responded: “After a two-year process where our proposals were supported at every stage, our investment in 2,000 jobs, building one of the most sustainable buildings in London, improving the public realm and creating a flagship store, is now effectively in the deep freeze.

“Today the Secretary of State has ignored his appointed expert David Nicholson who recommended approval of our scheme.

“When 42 of the 269 shops on what should be our nation’s premier shopping street sit vacant, disregarding the expert opinion and approval of the appointed planning inspector and playing to the gallery by kiboshing the only retail-led regeneration proposal is a short-sighted act of self-sabotage by the Secretary of State and its effects will be felt far beyond M&S and the West End.

“The nation’s fragile economic recovery needs government to give confidence to sustainable regeneration and investment as well as following due process; in London and across the UK.

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“Today the Secretary of State has signalled he is more interested in cheap shot headlines than facts and if it weren’t so serious it would be laughable.

“We have been clear from the outset that there is no other viable scheme – so, after almost a century at Marble Arch, M&S is now left with no choice but to review its future position on Oxford Street on the whim of one man. It is utterly pathetic.”

Westminster City Council said it hoped that the company would return with a revised scheme.

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