Marks & Spencer has reacted with dismay and anger after plans to redevelop its flagship Marble Arch store were rejected by secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities Michael Gove.

Marble Arch Proposal Picture 1

M&S will review its future on Oxford Street after its redevelopment plans were rejected

M&S chief executive Stuart Machin described the situation as “pathetic” and reflecting “the whim of one man”.

Gove decided the public benefits of M&S’ plans were outweighed by the potential harm to the heritage of the area and sustainability concerns.

Machin said: “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.

“It is particularly galling given there are currently 17 approved and proceeding demolitions in Westminster and four on Oxford Street alone, making it unfathomable why M&S’ proposal to redevelop an aged and labyrinthian site that has been twice denied listed status has been singled out for refusal.

“The suggestion the decision is on the grounds of sustainability is nonsensical. With retrofit not an option – despite us reviewing 16 different options – our proposed building would have ranked in the top 1% of the entire city’s most sustainable buildings…

“We cannot let Oxford Street be the victim of politics and a wilful disregard of the facts. At a time when vacancy rates on what should be the nation’s premier shopping street are 13% higher than the average UK high street and Westminster Council is pleading for help in managing the growing proliferation of sweetshop racketeers, the secretary of state has inexplicably taken an anti-business approach, choking off growth and denying Oxford Street thousands of new quality jobs, a better public realm and what would be a modern, sustainable, flag-bearing M&S store.


“There is no levelling up without a strong, growing capital city, but the ripple effect extends well beyond Oxford Street. Towns and cities up and down the country will feel the full effects of this chilling decision, with decaying buildings and brownfield sites now destined to remain empty as developers retreat. The nation’s fragile economic recovery needs government to give confidence to sustainable regeneration and investment as well as follow due process, in London and across the UK. 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”

Oxford Street has suffered in recent years from problems such as reduced footfall since the pandemic and a rash of candy stores. Westminster Council is in the midst of plans to improve the street and has sought to drive out the candy stores. While big names such as Topshop have shut, high profile newcomers including Ikea are preparing to open.

New West End Company chief executive Dee Corsi said: “Today’s decision is a missed opportunity to accelerate the growth of the West End and has the potential to damage the district’s reputation as a leading destination for global businesses and investors. It is particularly disappointing, given that the proposal was previously approved by both Westminster City Council and the Greater London Authority…

”The proposal for Marks & Spencer’s flagship redevelopment is part of Oxford Street’s future growth story and today’s decision misses the opportunity to capitalise on the positive momentum the district is currently experiencing. A thriving West End is necessary to support businesses throughout the UK, acting as the national shop window for our most iconic brands.”

Westminster City Council cabinet member for planning and economic development Geoff Barraclough said: “The Marks & Spencer application had significant implications for the environment so it was right the case should be tested robustly. The council’s position is to encourage landowners to refurbish buildings, not demolish them.   

“Clearly this is a disappointing day for M&S but we hope they return with a revised scheme that meets the new tests presented by the climate emergency. Footfall on Oxford Street is improving and with our exciting plan for an overhaul of Oxford Street just launched, M&S can remain a powerful presence on Oxford Street. We very much want them to continue to be a part of the West End’s success story.”