Duncan Baker among string of supporters including author Bill Bryson who are backing Save Britain’s Heritage’s campaign to block Pilbrow & Partners’ demolish and rebuild plans for landmark 1920s building

MandS Oxford St

M&S’ flagship store on Oxford Street would be demolished and replaced by a 10-storey block under Pilbrow & Partners’ plans

A Conservative MP has joined a group of high-profile names backing a campaign led by Save Britain’s Heritage to stop Pilbrow & Partners’ proposals to tear down M&S’ Oxford Street store and replace it with a 10-storey office and retail block.

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker, who launched a parliamentary bill earlier this year which would limit embodied carbon emissions in projects, said the built environment must “do things differently” if it is to meet the government’s net zero targets.

He is among a string of supporters including author Bill Bryson and Haworth Tompkins managing director Steve Tompkins who have written to communities secretary Greg Clark and the planning inspector calling for the landmark building to be saved.

It comes ahead of a two-week public inquiry this October which will see Save Britain’s Heritage go head to head with M&S on the issue, with the outcome expected to be highly influential for how the industry approaches demolish and rebuild projects.

Bryson has also donated £500 towards a crowdfunder launched by Save three weeks ago and which has already almost raised half of its £20,000 target.

The money, which has come from 190 supporters including London Eye architect Julie Barfield, will pay for legal fees and expert witnesses who will demonstrate to the inquiry that a deep retrofit of the 1920s department store is preferable to demolition.

Witnesses will also argue the building should be saved because of the heritage contribution it makes to the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street and the wider West End.

Pilbrow &  Partners' proposals for the Marble Arch branch of Marks & Spencer

Pilbrow & Partners’ proposals for the site

“For the built environment industry to meet government net zero targets means doing things differently and encouraging innovation,” Baker said.

“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.”

Bryson, who is best known for his books Notes from a Small Island and A Short History of Nearly Everything, said it would be a “great shame” to flatten the building and that he was motivated by a wish to “help stop a bit of foolishness”.

Duncan Baker

Duncan Baker said the built environment must ‘do things differently’ if it wants to meet the government’s net zero targets

Tompkins, who co-founded the environmental campaign group Architects Declare, said that refurbishment projects must play a ““far more central role if we are serious about addressing the planetary emergency”.

He added that the case was an opportunity for the planning inspectorate to “show real leadership” and described the building as 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,” Tompkins said.

He was echoed by Sarah Wigglesworth, director of Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, who said the industry must 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,” she said.

“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.”

Pilbrow’s proposals were approved by Westminster City Council last November, but they were called in by then-housing secretary Michael Gove in April.

Following the move, M&S accused Gove of “grandstanding” and said it was “bewildered and disappointed at [his] baseless decision”.

The firm’s property director Sacha Berendji added that the secretary of state had “blocked the only retail-led regeneration in the whole of Oxford Street in a building which was refused listed status due to its low design quality and, while safe, cannot be modernised through refitting as it’s three separate buildings containing asbestos.”

A government minister will ultimately determine whether the plans can proceed, based on the advice of the planning inspector who presides over the public inquiry.

Pilbrow & Partners' proposals for the Marble Arch branch of Marks & Spencer, seen from the south-west

Street view of the redevelopment plans