PRESS RELEASE: New report blasts bulldoze and rebuild plan for M&S Oxford Street HQ

21st January 2022

A new report published today calls on Marks and Spencer (M&S) to re-think its demolition plan for the landmark Oxford Street store and warns Westminster City Council it won’t meet its stated climate change commitments unless it immediately changes course. 

Analysing the climate change impact of the planned demolition of the store in central London, the report heavily criticises the carbon emissions of the scheme and calls for a comprehensive retrofit of the existing buildings instead. 

Written by sustainability and carbon expert Simon Sturgis, and commissioned by SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the report finds that the proposals do not comply with the UK Government’s net zero legislation to reduce carbon emissions or the Greater London Authority’s stated policy to prioritise retrofit. The plans also run counter to Westminster City Council’s declaration of a climate emergency. 

Under the proposals, designed by architects Pilbrow + Partners, the 1929 art deco landmark is set to be bulldozed along with two extension buildings to be replaced with a 10-storey retail and office building. Despite substantial local and national opposition, and a listing bid from the Twentieth Century Society, the plans were approved by Westminster City Council in November 2021. 

The report states: “Westminster City Council should require that the site owner for 458 Oxford Street examine proposals for a comprehensive retrofit of the existing buildings. They should develop a scheme suitable for ensuring a new, long-term phase of life for the retrofitted, rationalized and extended existing buildings. What is required is that the same level of ingenuity and design skill that has been applied to the new build proposal is also be applied to a comprehensive retrofit scheme.”

It adds: “If Westminster City Council allows proposals for existing buildings to be demolished and replaced without properly prioritising comprehensive retrofit solutions, then it will not meet its stated climate change commitments.”

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: "The M&S building is a handsome landmark that has characterised Oxford Street for almost 100 years, helping shape one of London's most famous and historic streets. We call on M&S to stick to their ambitious sustainability goals and re-think their plans. The environmental cost of demolition and rebuild of this building just doesn’t stack up when measured against a retrofit alternative.”
Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: “The Simon Sturgis report is a strong endorsement of the message in SAVE’s original hard-hitting Manifesto in 1975: In a period of economic stringency, the waste involved in town centre demolitions, for example, is almost criminal, homes are lost, small businesses destroyed, areas blighted, resources squandered, and the civilising influence of the past dissipated."

"This message is now more important than ever before.”

The construction of the new building is expected to release just under 40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, with the total embodied carbon cost over 60 years just under 53,000 tonnes of C02 and the energy in use expected to be some 81,000 tonnes of CO2.
Yet just in September last year, M&S announced it was ramping up its ambitious green agenda, seeking to cut a third of its carbon emissions by 2025 and be fully net zero by 2045.

To meet its international obligations, the UK Government legislated in 2019 and 2021 to have a net zero target by 2050 and 78 per cent emissions reductions by 2035. The built environment is held to be responsible for some 40 per cent of these emissions, therefore the built environment industry must make major changes in the way it operates to achieve these goals.  

In the report Simon Sturgis states: “A comprehensive retrofit on this site is an opportunity to explore a new form of architectural solution for sites such as this. This is not an isolated problem, new build schemes like this are being proposed all over London and the UK.”

The report adds: “Meeting UK, Greater London Authority and Westminster City Council net zero targets does not mean ‘business as usual plus a high BREEAM rating’. A very different approach must be adopted and as soon as possible…Whatever its sustainability credentials, you cannot separate the new build from the fact that there are valuable carbon assets already on the site eminently capable of reuse. To meet UK/GLA/WCC carbon targets you must look at the total carbon equation including a comprehensive retrofit.” 

The report highlights that a comprehensive retrofit providing better internal layouts, modern environmental standards and additional space would be a significantly lower carbon option compared with demolition and rebuild. The report calls on M&S to undertake a detailed and comprehensive exercise to design such a scheme. 

M&S 2

Please sign and share our joint SAVE Britain's Heritage and Twentieth Century Society petition calling on the Chairman and CEO of Marks and Spencer Plc to stop the proposed demolition of M&S's historic Oxford Street HQ! 

M&S 1

About the author of the report

Simon Sturgis is Managing Partner of Targeting Zero, and a member of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) Climate Change Expert Panel, the British Council for Offices Sustainability Group and was a Sustainability Advisor to the RIBA Stirling Prize (2017/18). He is an advisor to the EU Commission, Green Construction Board, RICS, and the Building Research Establishment.


Notes to editors: 

1. For more information and images contact Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain's Heritage: / 020 7253 3500.

2. Click here to access the new report by Simon Sturgis.

3. Click here for our previous press statement ahead of Westminster City Council's Planning Committee in November 2021.

3. SAVE Britain's Heritage is a strong, independent voice in conservation that has been fighting for threatened historic buildings and sustainable reuses since 1975. 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.