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M&S Oxford Street: Author Bill Bryson and leading architects join fight against demolition


M&S Oxford Street store
M&S Oxford Street store
// Author Bill Bryson and Stirling prize winning architect Steve Tompkins are among those that have backed Save Britain’s Heritage’s campaign to fight M&S’ plans to demolish its Oxford Street flagship
// The retailer’s plan to rebuild its Marble Arch store was overturned by Michael Gove earlier this year and will go to an inquiry in October

Several high profile individuals have lined up to oppose M&S’ controversial plan to raze and rebuild its Oxford Street store including Bill Bryson and architects including Stirling prize winner Steve Tompkins.

Bryson, author of Notes from a Small Island, has donated £500 to a fund created by the Save Britain’s Heritage campaign group, according to The Architect’s Journal.

Bryson told the publication: “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.”

M&S’ plan to rebuild its flagship Marble Arch store will now be subject to a public inquiry after former communities minister Michael Gove overturned Westminster Council’s planning permission for the project.

The fund, which will be used to cover Save Britain’s Heritage legal costs in opposing M&S at the inquiry that will be held on 25 October, is approaching the halfway mark of its £20,000.

READ MORE: M&S blasts Gove’s decision to block Marble Arch store redevelopment 

A report produced by architect Simon Sturgis earlier this year argued that the M&S proposals were not compliant with the Greater London Authority’s policy to prioritise retrofitting buildings and criticised the carbon emissions of the scheme

M&S insists that its proposed new building would use less than a quarter of the energy of today’s structure, and that the fabric of the existing site, known as the Arch, which is made up of three buildings of different ages with asbestos throughout, means that refurbishment is not a realistic option.

However architect Tompkins, a co-founder of Architects Declare who recently helped redesign the National Theatre in London, believes the M&S store, which he described as a “handsome piece of urban architecture”, is “an entirely suitable candidate for deep retrofitting”.

M&S chief executive Stuart Machin said in June: “Our investment will deliver far more than carbon reduction; it will be a better place for our customers to shop, a better place for our colleagues to work, and a better public realm for our community.”

Machin hit out at Gove’s decision earlier this year. He said Oxford Street was in need of investment and warned that the famous shopping street was at risk of becoming a “dinosaur district destined for extinction”.

He added: “We need to back innovation, not breed a dinosaur district destined for extinction.

“When I walk down Oxford Street today, I see a stark reality staring back at me. One in five shops sit vacant, there is a growing proliferation of tacky candy stores and near £600,000 of counterfeit goods have been seized from hawkers this year.

“The effects of Covid have brought a street that was once the jewel of UK shopping to its knees.”

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