PRESS RELEASE: MP and property developers back SAVE, arguing all ‘demolition must now be last resort’

Calls for industry rethink come as Bill Bryson spurs M&S crowdfunder towards halfway mark

15th August, 2022

Property developers and a Conservative MP have told the Communities Secretary that a new national approach to construction is needed in the face of the growing climate crisis.

Demolition should now be seen as a last resort and retrofit must become the industry’s default, they argue.

They are among a string of experts who have written in support of SAVE Britain’s Heritage to Greg Clarke and the Planning Inspector ahead of the public inquiry into M&S’s plans to demolish its landmark building on Oxford Street. SAVE is going head-to-head with M&S at the two-week inquiry in October, leading the case for retention and retrofit.

Meanwhile a crowdfunder, which was launched by SAVE less than three weeks ago, has almost hit the halfway mark thanks to the generosity of 190 different supporters – including the writer Bill Bryson and London Eye architect Julia Barfield.

Bryson, best known for his books Notes from a Small Island and A Short History of Nearly Everything, donated £500 to the appeal. He told the Architects' Journal: "I believe it would be a great shame to tear down the M&S building. I have no special knowledge or insights about the matter. I just wish to help stop a bit of foolishness."

SAVE's appeal aims to raise £20,000 towards our legal fees and expert witnesses. Our experts will demonstrate that the M&S building is an eminently suitable candidate for a deep retrofit which would bring it up to the highest contemporary standards of sustainability, robustly challenging M&S’s case for demolition and new-build. They will also argue the elegant 1920s building deserves to be saved because of the valuable heritage contribution it makes to the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street and the wider West End.

In addition to the expert witnesses, many statements and case studies have been submitted to the inquiry by architects, engineers, developers and academics – as well as Duncan Baker, the MP for North Norfolk who brought the Carbon Emissions (Buildings) Bill to Parliament.

Duncan Baker MP wrote: “For the built environment industry to meet Government Net Zero targets means doing things differently and encouraging innovation. Approving the proposed M&S scheme would mean ‘no change’ and ‘business as usual’… If this country is to reach its Net Zero objectives, it is vital that we rethink proposed demolitions like this, with far more attention paid to the embodied carbon impact.”

Jacob Loftus is CEO of General Projects which specialises in the reinvention of existing buildings to create high-quality sustainable developments including the retrofit of the former Woolworths HQ on nearby Marylebone Road and two industrial buildings in Clerkenwell.

Jacob Loftus wrote: “It is clear now, given the extent of the climate emergency, that retrofit must be the default for our industry, and demolition a last resort unless very considerable benefits can be created to justify it.”

He added: “This is the first time that I have ever written such a letter, but I do believe this particular building is the absolute best example of a building that must be protected. From a sustainability standpoint the case to demolish it does not exist, the embodied carbon created by the new development is enormous and the quality of the existing building has fantastic proportions, making it perfectly capable of a fantastic retrofit. A commercially viable building of the highest quality could be created using the existing building, with extensions possible to add floor space if required.

“From a design and heritage perspective this building contributes enormously to Oxford Street – a street which is increasingly losing its character as we speak.”

His point was supported by other developers in their own statements, including Ashley Nicholson, director of Verve Properties which is behind the successful reinvention of a striking former Debenhams building in Bournemouth.

Ashley Nicholson wrote: “It is my belief that with imagination the retained and retrofitted M&S building could have a perfectly viable future.”

Sarah Wigglesworth, director of Sarah Wigglesworth Architects which has a long track record of designing sustainable buildings, said demolition would go against the GLA’s climate policies and Westminster Council’s declaration of a climate emergency.

Sarah Wigglesworth wrote: “We need to go as far and as fast on this agenda as we possibly can. In this scenario there is very little place for new build; we must put all our effort into reusing and rehabilitating the buildings we have, just as people the world over have done for centuries before us… Accordingly, it would be a climate crime to demolish and rebuild this store anew. It has huge potential to be retrofitted, as an increasing number of buildings have demonstrated is possible.”

Steve Tompkins is founding director of Haworth Tompkins Architects which won the coveted Stirling Prize in 2014 and the co-founder of the environmental group Architects Declare, now a multi-disciplinary alliance of more than 7,000 practices in 28 countries.

Steve Tompkins wrote: “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. Pilbrow and Partners are skilful architects and I am sure would do an admirable job of bringing the building into the next phase of its life.”

He added: “I believe projects of this type must play a far more central role if we are serious about addressing the planetary emergency and now is an opportunity for the planning inspectorate to show real leadership.”

Others who submitted statements include Dr Barnabas Calder, a historian and senior lecturer in architecture at the University of Liverpool whose book Architecture: From prehistory to climate emergency has been widely acclaimed. He said the loss of such a distinguished building “would constitute a significant impoverishment of the heritage of the area and of London more widely”.

Barnabas Calder wrote: “The applicants’ case for ‘sustainability’ is based on a comparison between their proposed building and the current building performing largely as it now is. In fact, much the best option would be a third option: deep retrofit.

“A well-executed retrofit would avoid most of the carbon emissions of replacing the building, and could secure an improvement in operational carbon (the CO2 emitted for heating, cooling, and otherwise running the building) as significant as or greater than that obtainable in the proposed new building.”

Michelle Ludik, head of conservation and cultural heritage at architects HOK, said it would set a “dangerous precedent”.

And Nicholas Boys Smith, director of the think tank Create Streets and chair of the government’s new Office for Place, described M&S’s proposals as “deeply flawed”.

Nicholas Boys Smith said: “It creates no new homes, destroys an elegant and important art deco building, makes Oxford Street less lovable, will undermine its future prosperity and pointlessly wastes oodles of embodied carbon in the process.

“The environmental case for pulling down this fine building was always gossamer thin. Simon Sturgis’s analysis [a technical dossier by a carbon expert commissioned by SAVE] has exposed it for what it is. We should be adapting the remaining building not smashing it up.”


Notes to editors:

1/ For more information contact Elizabeth Hopkirk: / 020 7253 3500.

2/ Support our fundraising appeal here.

3/ Watch our campaign video here

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

5/ 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.