Fury as Sadiq Khan fails to save M&S's flagship Oxford Street store

Not just bulldozed… M&S in Oxford Street BULLDOZED: Fury as Sadiq Khan fails to save 1930s Art Deco block that houses Marks and Spencer from being demolished and replaced with ‘ugly’ modern alternative

  • Marks and Spencer announced plans to demolish Orchard House and two other buildings on Oxford Street
  • The three buildings make up the Marks and Spencer flagship store on Oxford Street – its biggest site in the UK
  • The building will be replaced with a 10-storey site which will house M&S, as well as have office and gym space 
  • Mayor’s office considered a report saying the demolition plan runs against plans to tackle climate change 
  • But Mr Khan decided that there are not grounds for him to intervene, allowing the proposals to go ahead 
  • The demolition of Marks and Spencer‘s largest and most prestigious store on London‘s Oxford Street can go ahead despite environmental concerns, Sadiq Khan has decided.

    A spokesman for the Mayor of London said there were not grounds for him to intervene in the application to knock down the 91-year-old landmark store, even though campaigners have highlighted the high level of carbon emissions that would result from the project.

    Last November, Westminster Council gave the green light for the proposals to go ahead and the mayor’s refusal to get involved means officials can now formally approve them. 

    Only an intervention by Communities Secretary Michael Gove would now stop the plan.

    The Greater London Authority’s carbon advisor Simon Sturgis, who penned a report saying the demolition plan was at odds with planning policy, told the Architects’ Journal that the mayor’s decision suggested he ‘isn’t serious’ about achieving ‘net zero’ carbon emissions.

    The 1930s Art Deco-style Orchard House is set to be demolished along with two other buildings that house M&S’s iconic flagship store.   

    In its place will be a modern 10-storey mixed-use building containing a new M&S store, along with cafe and restaurant areas, as well as prime office gym space and a new pedestrian arcade.

    But while M&S bosses said the multi-million redevelopment would help maintain – and improve – its offering on Oxford Street despite the rapidly changing face of retail, critics reacted with fury at the loss of one of the famous location’s most iconic buildings. 

    Others took a swing at the design of the new building, which they branded as ‘ugly’, while campaign groups, including SAVE Britain’s Heritage, urged councillors, architects and retail bosses to rethink the plans.

    The M&S project, which is expected to be completed in 2027, is the latest, and perhaps most dramatic, redevelopment plan for Oxford Street.

    It comes after IKEA were last year given the green light to convert Topshop into one of its flat-pack furniture mega-stores, while the John Lewis, House of Fraser and Debenhams buildings were also all set for major revamps.

    Slide me

    The demolition of Marks and Spencer’s largest and most prestigious store on London’s Oxford Street can go ahead despite environmental concerns, Sadiq Khan has decided. The 1930s Art Deco-style Orchard House is set to be demolished along with two other buildings that house M&S’s iconic flagship store (pictured above in 2020 compared with its planned replacement)

    City Hall was said not to have intervened in the demolition plans because the current building is not energy efficient, meaning that replacing it could reduce carbon emissions over time. 

    But Mr Sturgis’s report, which was commissioned by SAVE Britain’s Heritage, warned that Westminster City Council would not meet its climate change commitments unless it changed course. 

    The report heavily criticised the carbon emissions of the scheme and instead called for a comprehensive retrofit of the existing buildings. 

    The history of Orchard House 

    Best known as the home of Marks and Spencer’s flagship Oxford Street, Orchard House was built in 1930 by the construction firm Thomas & Edge.  

    The building was not built expressly for the firm, nor was it intended as its primary West End outlet.  

    The original promoters of Orchard House were J. Lyons & Company, who built Orchard House through Maxwell & Ponting Ltd, a company they had lately acquired. 

    Plans were first submitted in 1928 by architects Trehearne & Norman – then as a speculative design for a six-storey block of shops and offices.

    The design featured the orthodox stone-faced classicism common to major London buildings of its type and time. 

    It also featured a series of sculpted heads adorning keystones and balconies based on characters from Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass, carved by A. T. Bradford. 

    Most have since been removed, but the White Knight remains above the first-floor window on the Orchard Street corner, just visible beneath the projecting clock. 

    Construction started in 1929 – at a time when Marks and Spencer were actively seeking a new store in the West End.

    On the opening day, the press noted that the decoration and lighting were ¿simple and artistic¿, and ¿the display counters leave plenty of room to move about¿. At the time the store employed 250 assistants and, after proving a success, bosses opened a cafe-bar and a larger sales floor.

    On the opening day, the press noted that the decoration and lighting were ‘simple and artistic’, and ‘the display counters leave plenty of room to move about’. At the time the store employed 250 assistants and, after proving a success, bosses opened a cafe-bar and a larger sales floor.

    Simon Marks – son of founder Michael Marks – was determined to open a store on Oxford Street. He was so determined in fact that he told investors he wanted a store on the prestigious street ‘even if it never made a profit’ instead saying it was ‘good advertisement for the business’.

    And so the firm went ahead and agreed a deal to take the bottom floors of Orchard House.

    On the opening day, the press noted that the decoration and lighting were ‘simple and artistic’, and ‘the display counters leave plenty of room to move about’. 

    At the time the store employed 250 assistants and, after proving a success, bosses opened a cafe-bar and a larger sales floor.

    It became a training centre in 1967 – when Marks and Spencer took over the entire building.

    The building was extended in 1970, which allowed the sales are to be doubled, and stock rooms and staff quarters to be increased.

    Marks and Spencer expanded westwards into 466 Oxford Street in 1979, and acquired the premises of the National Provincial Bank in 1994. 

    After this steady expansion, the store had a sales area of more than 174,000 square feet.

    Source: UCL 

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    Geoff Barraclough, one councillor who voted against the scheme, said the new build would cost 39,500 tonnes of carbon, which is 20 times more than what the council was hoping to save annually through retrofitting.   

    A spokesperson for the Mayor of London, said: ‘The Mayor can only intervene in council planning decisions where the proposed scheme does not conform with the London Plan.

    ‘After a thorough assessment of this proposal, including the total carbon footprint involved, it was determined that grounds did not exist to allow the Mayor to intervene. 

    ‘It will therefore remain with Westminster City Council to determine the application.’

    Mr Sturgis’s report had not been considered by the GLA prior to its initial decision to give the go-ahead to the sceheme. 

    The GLA then gave time for the report to be examined but concluded after considering it that Westminster Council could carry on with determining the case without intervention. 

    Westminster Council has now said it expects to grant planning permission in the ‘near future’.   

    Henrietta Billings, director of Save Britain’s Heritage, said: ‘If the London mayor is serious about tackling climate change this cycle of trashing and rebuilding from scratch must stop.’

    According to the Architects’ Journal, the conservation body is also planning to write to Mr Grove urging him to stop the demolition from going ahead. 

    An M&S spokesperson said: ‘We are continuing to make progress on our plans to invest in the west end of Oxford Street for the long term by establishing a new, vibrant M&S store fit for modern retail, along with best in class sustainable office space. 

    ‘We will keep the local community updated as our plans progress.’

    The company’s plan will see Orchard House and two other buildings – which have been home to the retailer since its construction in 1930 – completely demolished to make way for one new 10-storey building.

    M&S will occupy just two and a half floors of the new building, rather than the five currently used. The other floors will be taken up by office and gym space. 

    The plans, drawn up by architects Pilbrow & Partners, were approved on Tuesday night after a battle with campaigners to save the old building.

    The 20th Century Society – a British charity which campaigns for the preservation of architectural heritage from 1914 onwards – had lodged an application with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to get the building listed.

    But following advice given by Historic England, the Government rejected the application – ultimately sealing the fate of Orchard House.

    The heritage agency said the building – erected in 1929–30 by Thomas & Edge Ltd to designs by Trehearne & Norman – was ‘not regarded as innovative nor of sufficient architectural quality’ to merit protection.   

    However the move angered campaign groups, including SAVE Britain’s Heritage.

    Executive director Marcus Binney told MailOnline last year: ‘This is a good quality building designed by an able architect which pays homage to its illustrious neighbour Selfridges and should stand for another hundred years. 

    ‘Turning it into rubble and rebuilding it make even more of a joke of Westminster’s carbon policies than their silly mound at Marble Arch.   

    He added: ‘Stop facing both ways M&S on green issues, withdraw these plans and recognise that the public won’t have big corporations adopting double standards on this issue.’

    The 20th Century Society, which campaigned to get the building listed, also expressed disappointment at the plans.

    Director Catherine Croft told MailOnline last year: ‘I think it’s a real shame, not just because of the loss of this building but I think it will also change the experience of walking west up Oxford Street as well.’

    On the new building, she noted that the design had similiarities to the soon-to-be demolished Orchard House.

    ‘I think if you are going to take down a building like this then you should do something different rather than just providing a newer version of something already there,’ Ms Croft added.

    Meanwhile Create Streets, which was founded by Nicholas Boys Smith, head of the non-departmental Office for Place agency, slammed the new design.

    He said Pilbrow & Partners’ new block was ‘ugly spreadsheet architecture,’ a ‘waste of embodied carbon’ and ‘barely bigger’ than the existing building. 

    Others questioned the environmental benefit of knocking down the old building in favour of a new building. 

    According to Architects Journal, councillor Mr Barraclough told fellow committee members: ‘There is merit in Orchard House, particularly the way it sits with Selfridges, to be reflective or subservient to it. 

    ‘The new building is the reverse: its overbearing and overshadows Selfridges, and its very large.

    A spokesman for the Mayor of London (pictured) said there were not grounds for him to intervene in the application to knock down the 91-year-old landmark store, even though campaigners have highlighted the high level of carbon emissions that would result from the project

    A spokesman for the Mayor of London (pictured) said there were not grounds for him to intervene in the application to knock down the 91-year-old landmark store, even though campaigners have highlighted the high level of carbon emissions that would result from the project

    Marks and Spencer's plan will see Orchard House and two other buildings - which have been home to the retailer since its construction in 1930 - completely demolished to make way for one new 10-storey building. Pictured: The Marks and Spencer building in Oxford Street in 1964

    Marks and Spencer’s plan will see Orchard House and two other buildings – which have been home to the retailer since its construction in 1930 – completely demolished to make way for one new 10-storey building. Pictured: The Marks and Spencer building in Oxford Street in 1964

    M&S chiefs say 90 per cent of materials from the old building will be recycled to develop the new building and that once complete the new site will be carbon positive - meaning it will actually take away carbon dioxide rather than produce it

    M&S chiefs say 90 per cent of materials from the old building will be recycled to develop the new building and that once complete the new site will be carbon positive – meaning it will actually take away carbon dioxide rather than produce it

    ‘[There will be] 39,500 tonnes of carbon in the building of this new construction. Its great that there is some urban greening on it but, according to the applicant’s own report, those 39,500 tonnes of carbon would require 2.4 million trees to offset. You can’t get 2.4 million trees on top of the new building.

    ‘Just to put that 39,500 tonnes of carbon in context, last week the council announced that we are going to spend £17 million to retrofit all of our building to save 1,700 tonnes of carbon every year. And so this is 23 years of what we have just saved as a council, going into one building.’ 

    M&S chiefs say 90 per cent of materials from the old building will be recycled to develop the new building and that once complete the new site will be carbon positive – meaning it will actually take away carbon dioxide rather than produce it. 

    Bosses also say the building design has been been given an outstanding rating by the sustainability group BREEAM – the highest possible award.

    The reason for demolishing the building meanwhile has been put down to the internal structure of the building, which has many pillars. 

    These internal pillars make it difficult to bring the current interior up to the modern day design specifications for its shops, M&S chiefs say.

    In a statement to Architects Journal, Pilbrow & Partners previously said: ‘We looked carefully at the potential refurbishment of the three separate buildings on the site, unfortunately their configuration precluded delivering the quality of retail space required by M&S. 

    ‘Westminster City Council have recognised the need for significant investment and regeneration on Oxford Street if it is to remain a successful retail centre in the face of unprecedented technological change (not to mention the pandemic). 

    ‘Our scheme reconceives Granville Place as an attractive pedestrian destination – a St Christopher’s Place West.

    ‘We create a new east-west link between Orchard Street and Granville Place with a new public arcade and offer further permeability north-south through the new M&S unit. Both routes converge on a garden animated by a café.’ 

    Westminster City Council Chairman of Planning, Robert Rigby, said last year: ‘Our planning policies now reflect our strong commitment to sustainability and the emphasis on refurbishment wherever possible rather than demolition. 

    ‘However we recognise that this will not be possible in all cases in order to ensure buildings meet the needs of the City.

    ‘The proposed building remains in keeping with the surrounding area and its heritage. The council is committed to transforming the Oxford Street District, and the new M&S store will play an important role in ensuing Oxford Street remains a vibrant attraction for shoppers.’

    The 20th Century Society - a British charity which campaigns for the preservation of architectural heritage from 1914 onwards - had lodged an application with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to get the building listed. But following advice given by Historic England, the Government rejected the application - ultimately sealing the fate of Orchard House. Pictured: A view showing the Coronation decorations on Oxford Street, London, 21st May 1953

    The 20th Century Society – a British charity which campaigns for the preservation of architectural heritage from 1914 onwards – had lodged an application with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to get the building listed. But following advice given by Historic England, the Government rejected the application – ultimately sealing the fate of Orchard House. Pictured: A view showing the Coronation decorations on Oxford Street, London, 21st May 1953

    The plans to demolish the M&S store come after House of Fraser closed its flagship Oxford Street shop permanently in January. 

    The department store chain, which is owned by Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, closed the branch after being served notice.

    The owner of 318 Oxford Street, Public Properties Establishment, has been given permission from Westminster Council for a £100million redevelopment that will include a gym and pool, shops, several floors of office space and a top floor restaurant with views across London.

    In a statement, Frasers warned of more closures unless the Government’s business rates tax system is overhauled to support the UK high street.

    Debenhams’s Oxford Street store shut after the chain went bust last year. 

    Owners of the building AHMM have since launched a consultation on proposals to refurbish Debenhams’ former flagship store on Oxford Street and transform it into a new retail and office scheme.

    Developer 334 Ramsbury Oxford Limited is planning to retain the existing building on 334 Oxford Street, adding new facades and three upper storeys with terraces. 

    People wearing facemasks outside House of Fraser on Oxford Street in London during the height of the coronavirus crisis in May 2020

    People wearing facemasks outside House of Fraser on Oxford Street in London during the height of the coronavirus crisis in May 2020

    The department store chain, which is owned by Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley (pictured left), will close the branch next year after being served notice

    The department store chain, which is owned by Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley (pictured left), will close the branch next year after being served notice

    318 Oxford Street was originally occupied by department store DH Evans, which merged with House of Fraser. The building has been occupied by House of Fraser since the early 2000s.

    Frasers bought House of Fraser for £90million in 2018 after it went into administration, but the store has struggled since. There were 43 House of Fraser shops in August, down from 48 the year before.    

    In 2020, retail giant John Lewis announced plans to convert a large chunk of its famous Oxford Street store into offices. 

    The John Lewis Partnership, which runs the department store chain and the Waitrose grocery arm, secured conditional planning permission from Westminster City Council last in October last year.   

    Under the plans, nearly half of the firm’s flagship store could be turned into office space. It is part of plans by the embattled department store chain tries to stem its losses and return to profit.