If we’re to have an IKEA in Greenwich let’s make sure it’s the right one

Few local issues have been as controversial as IKEA’s plans for a new Greenwich store on the Bugsby’s Way site currently occupied by Sainsbury’s “eco-friendly” low energy supermarket and the former Comet building. I recall vividly the large number of local residents that took the time last year to attend the meeting of the Council’s Planning Board at which IKEA’s outline planning application was considered. They did so not only to express their sorrow at the loss of Sainsbury’s Stirling-prize nominated landmark store (sadly hamstrung by a highly restrictive covenant) but also to raise concerns about what a new IKEA store on the site would mean for an already congested local road network and the noxious air pollution that is its corollary.

I shared many of the concerns raised that evening and, alongside residents and fellow (some, sadly, now former) councillors, voiced my fears about what a new IKEA store on the Greenwich Peninsula would mean for congestion and air pollution in the local area, particularly at weekends. As I said at the time, I’m not intrinsically opposed to the arrival of an IKEA store in the Borough and I’m mindful of just how important hundreds of new jobs will be to the local people that were not represented at the Town Hall that evening. I’m also conscious that many local residents actually welcome the arrival of an IKEA store and that those that are implacably opposed to one represent only one viewpoint among many. However, I believed then and I still do now, that there is a very real risk that an IKEA store on the Peninsula will aggravate the congestion and poor air quality that we suffer from locally on an almost daily basis.

My main criticism at the time related to IKEA’s assumptions about the likely “modal split” between public transport and vehicle journeys to the proposed Greenwich store. Even accounting for the well-established public transport network that serves the Retail Park on Bugsby’s Way (the site has a Public Transport Accessibility Level rating of 5 as opposed to other London IKEA stores that have far lower PTAL ratings of 2 or 3) the modelling that IKEA submitted with their application, suggesting that 35 per cent of all customers would travel to the store by public transport, struck me as unduly optimistic. Moreover, the assumptions upon which the transport assessments rested were also heavily reliant on future behavioral change on the part of customers (i.e. the assumption that over time an increasing number of them will opt for home delivery on products ordered online despite the cost). I hope I’m ultimately proved wrong and that 35 per cent or more of all Greenwich IKEA customers do arrive at the store by public transport but the experience of other IKEA stores in London – including those also well-served by public transport – such as Croydon, which sees around 25 per cent non-car footfall, suggest that the Greenwich store may struggle to meet its target.

However, despite the concerns raised by local residents and councillors the Council’s Planning Board determined to give outline planning authorisation for the store, a decision later backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson and left in force after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, having put the scheme on hold, decided not to intervene in the local planning process. Despite recent appeals from local campaigners urging the council to rescind its decision (a course of action that would have undoubtedly exposed the authority to legal challenge) the decision notice has now been issued. So we are where we are – IKEA, in some form, is coming to Greenwich.

Following detailed submissions from local ward councillors and months of negotiation the council managed to secure a satisfactory Section 106 agreement. And while it doesn’t go as far as I would like in some areas (I would have liked to have seen some movement from IKEA on reduced charges for home-delivery in order to promote public transport use) it did secure developer contributions for a number of measurers that should mitigate some of the potential negative impact of an IKEA store in the area while also providing wider benefits for the community. These include:

  • £750,000 to fund travel plan improvements that will be reviewed on an annual basis over five years by an independent assessor;
  • £500,000 for improvements to public transport namely the provision of extra buses to serve the development, and the upgrade of two bus stops adjacent to it;
  • £115,000 for enhancements to the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park including the improvement of the range of water bodies and linked habitats within the Park, enhancement of ponds and ditches and the provision of classroom facilities;
  • £243,000 for measures associated with the Borough’s Air Quality Action Plan;
  • £486,000 for the provision of local skills and training which will include contributions towards training as part of the Greenwich Local Labour and Construction (GLLaB) project;
  • Local highway and junction improvements including new and improved signage;
  • The promotion of travel by sustainable modes of travel for staff and customers of IKEA travelling to and from the development;
  • £24,000 for the provision of public art on and around the development;
  • The development of a car park management plan to tighten up what has been, until now, pretty much a free-for-all for commuters and visitors to the O2 arena.

However, as beneficial as the above measures may be they will not in themselves guarantee that a new IKEA store will not have a detrimental impact on the local area. What does have the potential to make a significant difference in that regard is the design of the store itself and, crucially, that is something that can still be shaped by the local community. In an effort to influence IKEA’s thinking on the store design Nick Raynsford and I arranged a meeting with representatives from IKEA UK and Ireland, including their Head of Sustainability and the Greenwich store project manager, in mid-January at which we made clear that IKEA Greenwich must not be a standard out-of-town blue shed but instead needs to be a sustainable, public-transport friendly building that is appropriate to its unique setting. We made clear to IKEA that the local community will want to see a store design that:

  1. Is a worthy replacement, both aesthetically and in terms of sustainability, for Paul Hinkin’s Sainsbury’s eco store;
  2. Is designed in such a way and with the relevant accompanying features (for example cargo bikes and bike trailers for locals that purchase bulky goods) to actively promote the levels of public transport use that we will need to see if IKEA’s optimistic transport assessments are to be realised;
  3. Sets extremely high sustainability standards (i.e. it cannot simply be an Ecobling powered box) and;
  4. Can be adapted to changing circumstances.

Something, in short, that is more akin to IKEA Hamburg Altona than IKEA Croydon.

My initial discussions with the IKEA representatives that are engaged with the design of the Greenwich store have left me cautiously optimistic about the chances of securing something that is both inconic and truly sustainable. Importantly, IKEA not yet tasked their architects to begin work on a design and they do not plan to do so until they have engaged actively with the local community on the issue by means of a series of community engagement events, held over the coming weeks and designed to solicit the views of residents’ groups, amenity societies and the wider community.

Whether this community engagement strategy is a genuine attempt to take stock of local opinion and draw on local knowledge and expertise or whether it is simply a PR exercise prior to the submission of a preferred store design (presumably, the cynics among you might say, already lurking in a BEKANT desk unit somewhere) remains to be seen. However, from the dealings I’ve had with IKEA’s new representatives in recent months (some of the individuals involved in the original outline submission appear to have moved on) I don’t get the sense that this is a box-ticking exercise.

In any case, whatever IKEA’s intentions might be, it’s crucial that local residents, amenity society representatives and councillors engage with IKEA about the store design so that the company are left in no doubt about the kind of store we want to see built here. If IKEA fall short and don’t come forward with an iconic, sustainable store that actively promotes the necessary public transport usage I’ll be the first person to criticise them but we may just have a chance here to secure a store that will benefit the area. If we have to have an IKEA in Greenwich, let’s do all we can to make sure it’s the right one.

Matthew Pennycook was elected as the Member of Parliament for the Greenwich & Woolwich constituency in 2015.

Comments

  1. says

    Excellent article by Cllr Pennycook. The two main tests are a store based on public transport/cycling with free delivery and a building which is innovative, sustainable and iconic – not a huge blue and yellow box!

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  2. MiceElf says

    Thanks for this clear explanation and update. Good to know that you and others are ‘on the case’ and hoping that the consultations mean what they say.

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  3. Vicky says

    Superb article, the background information is helpful and thank you for battling on our behalf to secure the best possible benefits for local people. We do hope that the design will be innovative.

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  4. Chris says

    Thank you for making position clear.

    Personally, I think the traffic is going to be horrendous, but I’ll be avoiding the whole area like the plague at weekends anyway as even now congestion is rife.

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  5. Paul Chapman says

    Good post, lots of common sense stuff. A couple of questions. 1. David mentioned the value of free delivery in his comment, but from your post can we assume that option is a non-starter? 2. You finish by saying that if IKEA do end up sticking a orange box up and congestion isn’t tackled you will be the first to criticise them. Is there anything else that can be done apart from criticising?

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  6. Scott aves says

    It’s good that IKEA is coming to greenwich, speaking as a local taxi driver
    I believe having a taxi rank on site would also encourage more people to use public transport and I’m sure us local drivers would be more than happy to fill the rank and offer the fist class taxi service the public demands.

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  7. Tom says

    Cynic chirping up… Cargo bikes? Really? IKEA will simply build a shinier replication of their other stores in Croydon and Wembly, it is not the Sydney opera house and Boris Bikes with trailers are a terrible idea to deliver flat pack wardrobes. This requires sensible road planning by subject matter experts to relieve congestion and could do without the tedious PR campaign from corporates and local councillors alike.

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  8. Matthew Pennycook says

    Paul, thanks for taking the time to respond. Taking your questions in turn:

    1) In January 2014 I met with IKEA’s Property Manager (UK & Ireland) and urged him to consider free (or at least reduced cost) home delivery as part of their planning application on the grounds that it would do more than anything to incentivise journeys to the store by public transport. I also pushed for this to be included in the Section S106 negotiations after the council’s Planning Board gave outline permission for the store but IKEA simply will not compromise on the issue. I think it’s something that we will inevitably have to revisit should IKEA Greenwich fall short of its target of 35 per cent of customers arriving by public transport.

    2) I think the most important thing in the short term is for local residents, residents’ associations and amenity societies to engage with the IKEA team tasked with bringing forward the store design. I attended a productive meeting on Tuesday alongside representatives from the Greenwich Society, Blackheath Society, East Greenwich Residents’ Association, Central Charlton Residents’ Association and the Ecology Park to discuss concerns and all the relevant community groups are working together to get the best deal for the area. If, in the end, IKEA do propose a bog standard blue box then the statutory planning process surrounding the detailed planning application will provide an opportunity for views to be expressed to the new Planning Board.

    Lauren, thanks for yours. My understanding is that IKEA are beginning their community engagement process with invite-only meetings with small groups of amenity societies, residents’ associations and councillors. They then intend to move on to organise wider community meetings in the summer (the timescale on the whole project is nearly two years) so you should have a chance to feed your views in at that stage as well as a chance to formally submit an objection if you’re still not convinced during the statutory consultation phase prior to the final application coming before the Council’s Planning Board.

    Best,
    Matthew

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  9. Shane Brownie says

    Thanks for the article Matthew. Personally I believe IKEA will be the straw that breaks the back of the almost already impenetrable and inaccessible Greenwich Peninsula. Congestion is already so bad in the morning you end up sitting in a stationary bus trying to get to the other side of the A102. The walking environment is awful and dangerous. On top of this Greenwich council is supporting a bid for a faith based secondary school that is likely to have very few if any local children meaning hundreds of new travel journeys from across the borough converging on the Peninsula. Add the notorious IKEA traffic and you have a disaster in the making (without the minor point of the Silvertown tunnel).

    If we are to have this mega store I think your proposal for free home delivery as a condition in the s106 an excellent one, though I note your colleagues have not taken this up. Given Greenwich councils recent history of unpicking agreed s106 agreements without consultation (eg, reduction of affordable housing on Greenwich peninsula), I’m afraid I have little confidence that even these will be followed through.

    I do not accept the case that IKEA will bring any new jobs to the area as they are clearly just displacing existing employment with no net impact on employment or the local economy and will clearly have substantial negative impacts of the quality of life for local residents.

    Great to see you interest in the design of the store, however even the most iconic IKEA (has there ever been one?) will not make up for the transport disaster it presents for the area.

    There is so much opportunity and potential in the Greenwich Peninsula, and it is so depressing seeing Greenwich council negating any strategic responsibility whether it be transport, housing, education etc. Instead we have a council that is constantly on the back foot allowing developers to run rough shot over the local community resulting in incoherent and unsustainable incremental development.

    Regards,

    Shane Brownie
    Local resident

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  10. Joe Beale says

    All valid suggestions, Matt. But as well as enhancing the green space at the Eco Park that exists already, details which are yet to be confirmed, how about some adequate compensation for the very nice little park – with its hedgerow, trees and pond- that will be built on? Otherwise we still end up with a net loss of green space and wildlife habitat in an already very built up and polluted area, with much more development still to come. Is there any chance a small corner could be set aside to compensate for this loss of the park? Personally speaking, if they adequately mitigated in this way then I would be much less opposed to their store.

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  11. JJ says

    A really useful post, whatever one thinks about the proposed development the level of openness from Matthew is a welcome step. My main concern is what actual powers the Council have to hold IKEA to their promises. Phrases such as ‘criticise’ or ‘revist’ should IKEA fall short of its commitmentdont really fill me with much confidence. Perhaps it is too late, but surely the public transport commitments should form part of the fundamental planning permission to allow for a meaningful sanction should the assumed public transport projections not be met -otherwise how do you hold their feet to the fireto make them change their business model to achieve this? the intransigence on delivery charges does not fill me with hope.

    I think they will need to do quite a lot to discourage car usage. As a very unreliable sample of 1 I live in Charlton and use public transport for a lot of local journeys. However given the choice of trying to get my Billy bookcase on the 486, attempting to ride a cargo bike up Charlon Chrich Lane or paying £35 and taking a day off work to wait for a delivery I’m afraid I’ll be taking my car. Perhaps I’m in a minority.

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  12. Jennifer Dyson says

    I am against the IKEA store I think our air quality is already very poor and it is only going to deteriorate Also IKEA rely heavily on people using cars and not London Transport or bikes! After all they sell flat packed furniture. I have been been a resident of Greenwich for over 40 years and feel sad to see so much over development in the Borough with too many high rise blocks and not enough social housing being built.

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  13. Spoontaneous says

    It is a pity that the ‘NO campaign’, who just looked to block/ stop the project had negotiated with IKEA when they still had some leverage. Now, IKEA have the upper hand.

    Due to the pointless delay, we have a had a huge boarded up shop (the old Matalan/ COMET) for many months, making the area look decadent/ derelict, which isn’t good.

    In my view, what the area needs is a tram that links the peninsula. Buses on congested roads are no good and tend to add to congestion and pollution too. The GLA needs to get involved; Barratt homes managed to negotiate the Woolwich Crossrail station with the GLA. It would be great if retailers like IKEA would do the same to link the peninsula by tram with underground, train stations and retail outlets.

    Having a nicely designed eco-friendly building to match the Greenwich Millennium Village theme would also be relevant. It would be a fantastic PR for IKEA and a gain for the area.

    In summary:
    1. – Electric 0 emissions tram to link IKEA with transport links (tube and train)
    2. – Eco-friendly award winning design building

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  14. Lamin Jammeh says

    I am glad for such a wonderful news that Ikea is coming to Greenwich. I hope the impact on the environment as well as the traffic would be very minimal cause they offer lots of low budget families high quality furniture and other household goods. In addition to this, there will be competition from Argos and Harveys. Overall consumers will benefit tremendously.

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  15. David P Baker says

    I believe the store would be ideal !! But !! and its a massive one, the traffic chaos that will ensue will be tremendous. There has to be a complete appraisal
    of all road links to this store. Ideally a complete new six lane motorway running North to South and East to West complementing the existing Blackwall Tunnel approach. New Tunnels enabling easy ingress and egress from the area will be needed. There is already a major problem in rush hours entering and leaving this area, the whole plan reminds me of the chaos that ensued when Canary Wharf built without adequate road access until years later the limehouse link was constructed. My expertise what little of it there is comes from driving black cab for 45 years in London seeing traffic chaos on a daily basis thanks to inane traffic policies of TFL and local councils.

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  16. Chris J says

    What a terrible planning failure this would be. Our roads in Greenwich are already creaking with too much traffic. A new IKEA store will inevitably make a bad situation worse.

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  17. Fat Rich says

    New to this thread (and recently the Greenwich area) so apologies if this has already been addressed but:

    surely part of the reason why IKEA stores attract ao much traffic is that their delivery is very expensive and difficult to arrange on a convenient day. They can invest all they want in public transport but that’s not going to help someone get a chest of drawers home, and therefore they will still drive.

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  18. Karen says

    I read most of the comment and understand the views, concerns of the impact of traffic in the area, this should have been reviewed and plans put into place years ago due to the nature of the area and links to East London etc. it seems to me that having IKEA in the area is an excuse for peoples up-raw but how is it different than any of the other larger businesses in the area? Yes Ikea may very well have a large impact on the congestion and as any large business development, they should work with the local authority, environmental organisation etc to ensure measures are in place.

    With this in mind I really can’t see how IKEA coming to the area is the beast most people on here are claiming it to be. Is it the idea of the invasion of flat packed furniture or just an act of snobbery that is repelling some people?

    Jobs will be created that surely is a plus. I personally would prefer buying my goods for a store with faces and people rather than on a faceless website, which too will have you waiting at home for the delivery. And wouldn’t it allow many jobs for local people; student, part time, full time,etc. shouldn’t these be considered as equally as traffic concerns.

    I agree their iconic blue cube building will distract and be a bit of an eyesore in our borough so redesigning will need to be a factor, but never the less in my opinion ikea is welcome.

    For those opposing its arrival where do you propose it goes? Our borough is pretty central considering the other ikea stores are in Thurrock, Croydon and North London where a considerable amount of travel is required, does this not have its own environmental and travel issues, as well as high delivery cost?

    Sometime we need to embrace change with all agencies involved to ensure there is a happy medium and let’s work on fighting bigger issues.

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