PRESS RELEASE: SAVE demands immediate retraction of misleading and inaccurate statement issued by M&S after public inquiry

The M&S building on Oxford Street [Credit: SAVE Britain's Heritage]

Charity calls out M&S’s harmful and irresponsible tactics

8th November 2022

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has sent a legal letter to Marks & Spencer demanding it retract a misleading statement containing a number of false claims which was issued to the media at the end of the public inquiry into plans to demolish their flagship building on Oxford Street.

M&S’s statement, issued after the two-week inquiry ended on Friday, made a series of misleading and inaccurate claims, wrongly suggesting that SAVE had accepted M&S’s position on several matters.

Our letter, sent to M&S chairman Archie Norman today, states that the retailer made highly irresponsible statements likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of SAVE, and demands a retraction and apology.

The letter says: “The defamatory statements misrepresent the differences between SAVE and M&S’s sustainability analysis, claim that SAVE accept M&S’s position on the long-term sustainability benefits of the scheme, and misrepresent the evidence of Mr Simon Sturgis.” Mr Sturgis was SAVE’s expert witness on embodied carbon and sustainability.

The letter goes on say: “The misrepresentation of SAVE’s position is likely to cause serious harm to the organisation in that it undermines the wider work that SAVE carries out to promote the sustainable reuse of historic buildings; and negates SAVE’s position advanced at the Inquiry on the implications of ‘embodied carbon’ resulting from the scheme.”

SEE FULL TEXT OF SAVE’s LETTER to M&S HERE

Our letter details the inaccuracies in M&S’s statement which included the claim that SAVE “accepted M&S’s sustainability analysis and that of our independent experts Arup, a significant move on their part. As a result … no witnesses on sustainability were called.”

This is completely untrue. Two of SAVE’s three expert witnesses focused on sustainability: Simon Sturgis of Targeting Zero who is an acknowledged expert on embodied carbon and net zero design; and Dr Julie Godefroy, an expert on the whole-life carbon emissions of buildings.

A joint position statement (JPS) issued by the SAVE and M&S experts during the inquiry clearly set out that a significant amount of the M&S case remained in dispute. Our legal letter says: “SAVE do not accept M&S’s ‘sustainability analysis’. This statement is therefore materially inaccurate. SAVE’s case, as made clear in the JPS, was and remains that the analysis of supposed benefits from the scheme, as advanced by M&S, is unreliable and unrealistic, and that no weight can be placed on the claim by M&S that the scheme would enjoy a carbon ‘payback’ against a refurbishment alternative."

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: “M&S’s press release was deliberately misleading and inaccurate. We see it as a cynical attempt to harm the reputation of SAVE. Their statement appears to be an attempt to shift the focus away from the colossal environmental impact that the demolition and rebuild of the Marble Arch store will have in terms of C02 compared with a deep retrofit alternative. This is greenwashing on an epic scale.”

Sustainability remains a central plank in SAVE’s case against M&S’s highly contentious redevelopment proposal which, if consented and built as currently planned, would immediately release almost 40,000 tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere.

As SAVE’s barrister Matthew Fraser of Landmark Chambers told the inquiry: “Despite claiming that sustainability is at the core of their brand and committing to being a net-zero business by 2040, M&S have dismissed the creative refurbishment alternative to such an extent that they have made a threat to the Secretary of State to leave Orchard House altogether if they do not get their way. This is not the constructive attitude of a retailer dedicated to sustainability, heritage conservation and the future success of Oxford Street.”

SAVE argued at the inquiry that this site presents an ideal opportunity for a market-leading innovative comprehensive retrofit of the buildings which would provide high-quality, energy-efficient retail and office space and new public realm without the massive environmental impact and avoiding the harmful heritage impacts of the demolition and new-build proposals.

We showed that there is no fundamental structural, façade deterioration or safety reason why these buildings should be demolished. M&S were unable to supply documents showing it ever considered a deep retrofit or that retention was ‘fully explored’ before the decision to demolish was made in 2018. Instead we argued that they tested light refurbishment options that were ‘straw men bound to fail’. During the course of the inquiry Simon Sturgis demonstrated that the M&S scheme had a far higher carbon impact than an extensive retrofit.

SAVE was represented at the inquiry by Matthew Fraser of Landmark Chambers. Our expert witnesses on carbon and sustainability were Simon Sturgis and Dr Julie Godefroy and Alec Forshaw on heritage.

The findings of the inquiry will now be considered by the Planning Inspector David Nicholson, who is due to make his recommendation to government within four months. The final decision will then be issued by the Secretary of State.

ENDS


Notes to editors

1/ For more information contact Elizabeth Hopkirk: elizabeth.hopkirk@savebritainsheritage.org / 020 7253 3500

2/ Find our legal letter to M&S HERE

3/ The COP27 climate talks opened in Egypt yesterday with world leaders under huge pressure to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.

4/ Find our closing statement by barrister Matthew Fraser of Landmark Chambers and links to SAVE's key evidence can be found here

5/ Find links to our previous press releases on the M&S building here.

6/ SAVE Britain’s Heritage is an independent voice in conservation that fights for threatened historic buildings and sustainable reuses. We stand apart from other organisations by bringing together architects, engineers, planners and investors to offer viable alternative proposals. Where necessary, and with expert advice, we take legal action to prevent major and needless losses. Our success stories range from Smithfield Market in London and Wentworth Woodhouse stately home in Yorkshire, to a Lancashire bowls club and the Liverpool terraces where Ringo Starr grew up.