Author Bill Bryson and architects including Stirling Prize winner Steve Tompkins and Mark Hines, the project director for the redevelopment of BBC Broadcasting House, have come forward to oppose plans to flatten Marks & Spencer’s store in London’s Oxford Street.
Bryson, best known for Notes from a Small Island and A Short History of Nearly Everything, has donated £500 to a fighting fund set up by campaign group Save Britain’s Heritage ahead of a public inquiry into the plan – under which M&S wants to build a new shop and offices on the same site – commissioned by former communities secretary Michael Gove in June.
The scheme has become a poster child for the debate about a shift to retrofitting and refurbishing buildings rather than demolishing and rebuilding, as part of efforts to cut the carbon footprint of development amid the climate crisis.
A report produced by architect and net zero expert Simon Sturgis commissioned by Save argued that the M&S proposals did not comply with the Government’s net zero commitments or the Greater London Authority’s policy of prioritizing retrofitting.
However, M&S says the proposed new building would use less than a quarter of the energy of the current structure and the fabric of the existing site, known as the Arch, which consists of three buildings of different ages with asbestos throughout, means refurbishment is not a realistic option.
Stuart Machin, chief executive of M&S, said: “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 space for our community. Today and tomorrow.”
M&S looks set to face significant opposition to its plans to crowdfund Save’s legal costs by opposing M&S at the inquiry, which starts on October 25, has a target of £20,000 and is nearing the halfway mark.
Bryson, who announced his retirement in 2020, told Architects’ Journal, which first reported his involvement in the campaign: “I think it would be a great shame to demolish the M&S building. I have no special knowledge or insight on the matter. I just want to help stop some stupidity.”
Tompkins, one of the founders of Architects Declare which led the recent redesign of the National Theater in London, wrote in his letter against the scheme: “Number 458 Oxford Street is a handsome piece of urban architecture, made with durable, high quality materials. It is a successful component of the wider streetscape and a well-known London landmark. For these reasons, the building appears to be a perfectly suitable candidate for deep retrofitting.”
The list of opponents also includes Ian Ritchie Architects, who worked on the Louvre’s pyramid extension, and sustainable design specialist Sarah Wigglesworth, as well as Conservative MP Duncan Baker – who introduced a private member’s embodied carbon bill earlier in the Commons earlier this year. year.
Wigglesworth said in her letter that demolishing and rebuilding the store would be a “climate crime” amid a planetary emergency “the likes of which we have never experienced before”.
The demolition and replacement scheme led by architecture firm Pilbrow & Partners, which would release almost 40,000 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, was approved by Westminster City Council and the Greater London Authority led by Mayor Sadiq Khan, but was subsequently called in. by Gove.