M&S appeals against Oxford Street decision – Key takeaways for developers
In August this year, Marks & Spencer (M&S) announced they were launching a legal challenge against the Government's decision to refuse planning permission for the redevelopment of their flagship Oxford Street store in London. This was a decision made by Michael Gove as the levelling up secretary (the Secretary of State) following a public inquiry.
The Secretary of State's decision to refuse the planning permission went against the local planning authority's decision and his own Planning Inspector's recommendations. The proposed plans involved the demolition of the current structure and the rebuild of new buildings that are more energy efficient.
Embodied Carbon and the transition to Net Zero
The Secretary of State's ruling specifically referred to the UK's transition to a zero-carbon economy as one of the key factors in the decision and flagged the levels of embodied carbon that would be associated with the redevelopment. Embodied carbon refers to the carbon emitted throughout the construction process including the manufacturing and production of the fabric and materials used as well as the emissions emitted during any demolition and construction. While it was agreed that redevelopment would involve a much greater embodied carbon impact when compared to refurbishment of the building, M&S had initially argued that the carbon savings created from a newer more energy efficient building would create a "carbon payback" that would balance out the increased levels of embodied carbon used in the redevelopment.
The decision by the Secretary of State referred to prioritising retrofit and refurbishment of existing buildings instead of demolition and redevelopment. Developers that are looking to redevelop existing buildings instead of retrofitting them will need to provide a compelling case to planning authorities why refurbishment is not a viable option. Any proposed demolition or construction will need to focus on carbon-responsible design principles and the reuse and redeployment of materials to lower the carbon footprint of any major demolition works.
In making its decision, the Secretary of State also highlighted the heritage impact of the wider Oxford Street area and the protected status of the surrounding properties, including the Grade II listed Selfridges building. The M&S building itself is not a listed building. While the decision acknowledged that there would be no direct effect on the designated heritage buildings, it stated that the designs of the proposed new M&S buildings could distract from the Selfridge's façade and could have a detrimental impact on the setting of Selfridges and other neighbouring buildings. This was despite the fact that the owner of Selfridges had publicly supported M&S' proposed redevelopment.
Design considerations are always going to be important in the context of protected buildings and heritage areas. While the Secretary of State's decision may not set a precedent, it certainly suggests that a retrofit and refurbishment approach could be the easier option in a heritage context.
Please click here to view our full article which goes into further detail on the issues raised in the M&S case (Refurbish or Rebuild MS launches appeal against Oxford Street decision -Trowers & Hamlins).