There’s been a spanner in the works for the proposed new Marks & Spencer flagship store on Oxford Street. The current plan is to send a load of bulldozers to knock down the original M&S building (Orchard House, 458 Oxford Street) and replace it with a new one, including shops and offices.
But M&S’s kicky younger sibling is causing quite a stir as the newbuild has been publicly opposed by architects, climate experts and writer Bill Bryson. Bryson has even donated £500 to the group Save Britain’s Heritage who are fronting the campaign. The crowdfunder to foot SBH’s legal bill has currently raised half of its £20,000 goal. The reason? The existing building is a fine and well-liked piece of London architecture from the late 1920s and despite the new building potentially being more energy efficient, the actual CO2 cost of demolishing it and then building a massive new structure in the middle of a massive polluted city is significant.
There’s going to be a public inquiry in October into the plan, which was originally approved by Michael Gove. This is down to a growing debate around refurbishing and retrofitting buildings instead of knocking them down and starting anew. People in favour of retrofitting say it could be a way to cut construction’s carbon footprint.
In May, architects including Kevin McCloud and London Eye designer Julia Barfield penned an open letter opposing the plans. According to the letter, constructing the new building would ‘unnecessarily pump nearly 40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.’
Architect Steve Tompkins, who recently redesigned the National Theatre, wrote: ‘Number 458 Oxford Street is a handsome piece of urban architecture, made with high-quality durable materials. It is a successful component of the wider streetscape and a familiar London landmark. For these reasons, the building appears to be an entirely suitable candidate for deep retrofitting.’
A report commissioned by Save says that the new structure won't be compliant with the government’s net-zero commitments, but M&S bosses argue otherwise. According to them, a spanking new building would use a quarter of the energy of the current one. They also said that the old fella is full of asbestos, so refurbishment wasn’t realistic.
Stuart Machin, the co-chief executive of M&S, said: ‘Our investment will deliver far more than carbon reduction; it will be a better place for our customers to shop, a better place for our colleagues to work and a better public realm for our community. Today and tomorrow.’
It’s still uncertain whether Marks & Sparks on Oxford Street will be traded in for a younger model, but they’re likely to continue facing extreme opposition from both architects and climate activists.