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 per cent of the entire city’s most sustainable buildings. It would have used less than a quarter of the energy of the existing structure, reduced water consumption by over half and delivered a carbon payback within 11 years of construction.
‘Building owners will think twice before needlessly knocking down reusable buildings’
Last month, communities secretary Michael Gove made what many are calling a ‘watershed decision’ by blocking Pilbrow & Partners’ controversial plans to demolish and replace Marks & Spencer’s flagship Oxford Street store.
‘Our proposed building would have ranked in the top 1 per cent of the entire city’s most sustainable buildings’
‘There is almost nothing in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) about how to factor carbon reporting into the planning system. And while local plan policies dealing with the issue are starting to emerge – particularly in London – they are very much in the early stages of development.’
Source:Pilbrow & Partners, Justin Piperger Photography and Wadsworth3D
It also prompted Financial Times business columnist Helen Thomas to brand Gove’s ruling ‘anti-business’ and both ‘arbitrary and confusing’ in the ‘absence of proper policy’.
So what did Gove say in his letter of refusal? And how open to challenge are these arguments? Moreover, what does this high-profile decision mean for development in Britain, both in terms of mood music and actual planning precedent?
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 per cent higher than the average UK high street, the secretary of state has inexplicably taken an anti-business approach, choking off growth and denying Oxford Street a modern, sustainable, flag-bearing M&S store.
Baldwin makes a good point. Gove’s decision is less of a turning point and more the latest major signpost in a climate-based agenda for circular-economy solutions, which is moving faster than the development cycle and government policy. No wonder this is proving perilous for M&S and others who go down the route of demolition.
For and against – how have the two sides reacted to Gove’s M&S decision?
But even if a challenge is launched – and at the time of going to print, M&S had not confirmed either way – winning is quite another matter. The retailer would have to show some legal flaw in Gove’s decision. And, putting the embodied carbon arguments to one side, refuting his reasoning on heritage will likely be difficult because of the element of subjectivity.
Observers believe M&S is likely to go down this road, given its furious reaction to the blocking of its flagship development plan.
‘This is a big moment in policy terms,’ says Dehon. ‘The secretary of state has given power to paragraph 152 – it’s a policy whose time has come.’
Talking to architects, especially in London, we are hearing that the majority of enquiries about large commercial schemes are now for retrofit as opposed to demolition and new-build in a way that was not happening 18 months ago.
M&S now has until the end of August to seek a judicial review in the High Court. In theory, this could lead to a court case towards the end of the year and a final verdict next spring.
‘[I do] not consider that the applicant has demonstrated that refurbishment would not be deliverable or viable’
It’s too early to say whether or not they will change their proposals but there’s no doubt that compared to where we were before the call-in, heritage and retrofit are now central in the mix, and decision-makers and building owners will think twice before needlessly knocking down reusable buildings.
However, Du Croz cautions that residential development may potentially be less affected than other sectors, given planning requirements that might compete with retention such as those concerning space standards, daylight, amenity and fire safety.
‘Many of us support retention and retrofit but if these principles are to have a significant bearing on development, they should be supported in planning policy – the NPPF, local plans and in this case, the London Plan.’
Stuart Machin, chief executive, Marks & Spencer