PRESS RELEASE: SAVE publishes report on M&S Oxford Street campaign

UPDATE: Secretary of State's decision on landmark case now due 'on or before 20th July'

22nd March, 2023

SAVE Britain’s Heritage today publishes an urgent report on the M&S Oxford Street case ahead of the Secretary of State’s landmark decision which is due this spring.

The report, The Battle for M&S Oxford Street: Why this landmark case matters, documents the campaign from the moment Marks & Spencer’s destructive proposals to demolish and rebuild their flagship building first crossed SAVE’s casework desk in 2021.

Since then the campaign to persuade the retailer to rethink their unpopular plans on heritage and sustainability grounds has become one of SAVE’s biggest cases. It could prove pivotal in the UK’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the built environment.

We fought a David and Goliath public inquiry last year which pitted SAVE’s modest team against M&S’s well-resourced benches of legal, design and planning specialists. The inquiry, held at Westminster City Hall over two weeks in October and November, brought heritage and sustainability issues jointly to the heart of planning for the first time, with the outcome likely to set an important precedent for the UK’s development and construction industry.

SAVE fielded two sustainability witnesses – embodied carbon specialist Simon Sturgis and whole-life carbon expert Dr Julie Godefroy – along with heritage and planning expert Alec Forshaw.

The planning inspector, David Nicholson, is understood to have now made his recommendation to the Secretary of State for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, who will have the final say. His decision, due “on or before 3rd May”, is eagerly anticipated.

SAVE and our supporters believe it could prove to be a historic case that puts an end to Britain’s demolition-first approach to development.

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: “This case is being seen as a major test of our disposable, knock-it-down and re-build attitude and could have potentially far-reaching consequences for construction and development.

“As this week's IPCC report on the climate emergency makes clear, we cannot afford to continue destroying and replacing perfectly reusable buildings.

“Our report tells the story of how the M&S Oxford Street campaign unfolded and explains why the outcome is so important for our towns and cities – and, most urgently of all, for the planet.”

Nearly 40% of global carbon emissions come from the built environment, with new construction responsible for about a quarter of that.

As Mr Sturgis, founder of the Targeting Zero consultancy, said in SAVE’s annual lecture at the Royal Academy this month, emissions from construction and the use of buildings are now a “bigger existential threat than nuclear war, just a lot less obvious or immediate”.

Yet retrofitting buildings to bring them up to contemporary standards is frequently an option and one that enlightened developers are increasingly interested in pursuing.

SAVE’s campaign was supported by an impressive cast of developers, architects, engineers, historians, heritage and retail experts and environmental campaigners. We were also heartened to receive the backing of household names such as: author Bill Bryson, who donated to the crowdfunder for our legal fees; actor Kristin Scott Thomas, who submitted a written statement to the inspector; and TV presenter and comedian Griff Rhys Jones, who spoke at the inquiry.

The case has received intense media interest and much public support – with nearly 6,000 signing our petition against M&S’s plans.

The engaging 28-page report, The Battle for M&S Oxford Street: Why this landmark case matters, is available to download from our website or to buy. It is illustrated with specially commissioned photographs and tells the story of the campaign, the tireless work of SAVE and our allies – and the delightful history of the threatened Marble Arch buildings.


Notes to editors

1/ For more information or press images contact Elizabeth Hopkirk: / 020 7253 3500

2/ Find a copy of the report HERE and attached below.

3/ 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.

Documents (click to read/download)