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M&S wins Marble Arch legal battle in blow for Michael Gove

High Court judge said Mr Gove 'misinterpreted and wrongly applied planning policy'
High Court judge said Mr Gove 'misinterpreted and wrongly applied planning policy'

Marks & Spencer has won a crucial legal victory against Michael Gove in the battle over the multi-million pound redevelopment of its Marble Arch store.

The Housing Secretary’s decision to block the project was found to be unlawful by a High Court judge and has been quashed.

M&S was successful on five of the six challenges it brought, successfully convincing the courts that Mr Gove was wrong to reject its plans.

Sacha Berendji, the retailer’s operations director, said: “Today’s judgment couldn’t be clearer, the court has agreed with our arguments on five out of the six counts we brought forward and ruled that the Secretary of State’s decision to block the redevelopment of our Marble Arch store was unlawful.

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“The result has been a long, unnecessary and costly delay to the only retail-led regeneration on Oxford Street, which would deliver one of London’s greenest buildings, create thousands of new jobs and rejuvenate the capital’s premier shopping district.”

M&S wants to demolish its Art Deco building near Marble Arch and replace it with a new 10-storey complex.

The retailer had argued that the age and layout of the building meant demolition and a full rebuild was the only viable option.

M&S’s proposals had been supported by the council, the Mayor and an independent inspector. However, Mr Gove stepped in to block the project, arguing it would “fail to support the transition to a low carbon future, and would overall fail to encourage the reuse of existing resources, including the conversion of existing buildings”.

M&S had warned that Mr Gove’s intervention cast doubt over its future on Oxford Street.

The High Court judge agreed with M&S that Mr Gove had “misinterpreted and wrongly applied planning policy” by blocking the scheme.

Mrs Justice Lieven found that Mr Gove was wrong in saying that there was a “strong presumption in favour of repurposing buildings” in planning laws.

In the ruling, the judge said the Housing Secretary had “failed to grapple with the implications of refusal”, with the independent inspector having “raised the possibility that if there is no significant change to the store it might be occupied by multiple traders, including American candy and luggage type stores”.

She found Mr Gove had also not provided “adequate reasons” why he thought there would not be a major impact on the area if M&S did not invest or decided to quit the site.

Mr Gove will now have to make a fresh decision about whether to approve the project or not.

Mr Berendji said: “The Secretary of State now has the power to unlock the wide-ranging benefits of this significant investment and send a clear message to UK and global business that the government supports sustainable growth and the regeneration of our towns and cities.”

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesman said: “We acknowledge the judgment and are considering our next steps. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

The ruling followed months of arguments over the scheme, with criticism from M&S bosses that the block on its scheme was “senseless”.

Writing in the Telegraph last year, Stuart Machin, chief executive of Marks & Spencer, branded the decision “anti-business” and claimed it would have a “chilling effect” on investment across the country.

He argued that Mr Gove had created confusion for developers over what they needed to do to get the green light for projects.

Mr Machin said: “The Government is elected to govern and show leadership, not act like a pressure group, particularly on climate. It is one haphazard decision after the next with no clarity or clear direction and Gove’s decision only compounds this further.”