Ikea tried to wriggle out of planning pledge to deter Greenwich gridlock

Ikea east Greenwich
The east Greenwich Ikea has now been open for three weeks

Furniture giant Ikea tried to get out of a planning commitment to direct drivers away from a congested roundabout outside its controversial east Greenwich store, 853 has discovered.

Traffic congestion at the store, which the Swedish company has called “its most sustainable yet”, has focused on the notorious roundabout below the Woolwich Road roundabout – an issue highlighted by neighbours when the development was given planning permission by Greenwich Council five years ago.

Ikea legal agreement
From Ikea’s 2014 legal agreement

At the time, Ikea had pledged to spend £50,000 on erecting signs directing drivers on the A102 to enter the store via the Blackwall Lane exit to relieve pressure on the junction.

But Ikea asked to be let off the condition after Transport for London refused to erect branded signs on the Blackwall Tunnel approach road. Council planners turned down the request and Ikea has now asked to put up unbranded signs directing drivers away from the roundabout.

Ikea traffic jam
The store has exacerbated weekend congestion in the area – such as this queue on a Sunday afternoon in Charlton

Potential for congestion

The potential for the store to exacerbate the already-serious congestion in the area lay behind fierce local opposition to Ikea’s proposal to build the store, which was waved through by a planning committee including former council leaders Chris Roberts and Denise Hyland in March 2014.

But when the planning permission was formally agreed later that year, the legal agreement reflected some of those concerns, and included a commitment from Ikea to allocate £50,000 to new signage on the A102 to “to address network capacity constraints on Peartree Way and Woolwich Road roundabout” – encouraging drivers heading to the store to use the Blackwall Lane exit further north, which could deter some drivers who are unfamiliar with the area from using the roundabout.

Those signs were submitted for approval on 24 September 2018, but were rejected by Transport for London, which controls the A102 and its junctions.

A letter sent to Greenwich planners by Tim Farlam, Ikea’s UK and Ireland real estate and development manager, said: “TfL have advised that policy makes it very unlikely for them to accept the installation of commercial signs on the TfL network, therefore making it impossible to update/install signs in accordance with the proposed signage strategy.

“Ikea are therefore unable to implement the road signage scheme as per paragraph 7 of section 3.”

Ikea traffic queue
Traffic built up under the Woolwich Road flyover on the store’s first morning of trading

It is not known what kind of signs Ikea hoped to erect – 853 is still awaiting an answer to a freedom of information request to TfL. However, traffic regulations do not allow for brand names to appear on signs.

Ikea has now submitted a scheme which will direct drivers to a “retail park” rather than to “Ikea”.

Ikea signage strategy
The revised signage strategy submitted after TfL rejected signs with the Ikea brand on

Carl Eddleston, TfL’s head of asset operations, told 853: “Our standards for road signs are based on national policy and are in place to ensure the safe and reliable operation of the road network for all users. We continue to work closely with Ikea to reduce congestion in the area and to encourage people to walk, cycle and use public transport.”

A Greenwich Council spokesperson said: “The delay in providing the signage has largely been due to TfL not being able to permit branded signage, such as the word ‘Ikea’, on directional signs. The council is awaiting comment from TfL on the proposed unbranded signage before a decision can be made.”

The council has already pledged to improve the pedestrian environment around the store in the spring, with funds provided by Ikea.

Ikea car park
Car park wardens on the Family card preview day on 1 February. Ikea is asking for drivers to be given five hours’ free parking

A recent planning application asked Greenwich Council to allow five hours’ free car parking outside the store, which the chain is promoting as its “most sustainable yet”. A decision has not yet been made on the application.

In a statement released by Ikea’s press office, store manager Helen Aylett said: “We are liaising with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Transport for London on the road signage as part of the Section 106 agreement and we are currently awaiting approval on our submission.

“In addition to this and as part of the Section 106 Agreement, we have also submitted a car park management plan for approval, produced in collaboration with the owners of the Millennium Retail Park and car park. Some of the specific requirements within this plan, such as the free parking limit, have been set out by the car park owners. As Ikea Greenwich is our leading sustainable store, we’re encouraging as many people as possible to use public transport when visiting us and to leave their cars at home.”

Lewisham station
Advertisements have appeared at Lewisham and Blackheath stations suggesting customers take the 108 bus

Missing public transport preview day

While Ikea failed to be let off its pledge to provide road signs, it appears to have have succeeded in getting out of holding a “public transport preview day” to encourage customers to ditch their cars when travelling to the store – with Greenwich Council under the impression that its preview opening for loyalty card holders was promoting public transport use.

As part of the planning process, Ikea also had to submit a travel plan. One of the pledges within the plan was to hold a public transport preview day – however, this did not materialise in the build-up to the store’s opening on 7 February.

Ikea Family preview
Email tickets did not mention a “public transport preview”

Asked what had happened to this requirement, a Greenwich Council spokesperson said: “Ikea has promoted access to the store via various sustainable public transport modes, such as on the underground, on buses and at railway stations.

“In addition, Ikea’s Greenwich store web page promotes public transport as the preferred way to get there. It is our understanding the public transport preview day was held prior to the official opening for Ikea Family card holders visiting the store on 1st and 2nd February via pre-organised time slots.”

However, these previews for loyalty card holders saw busy car parks with attendants in place to guide drivers – and email tickets made no reference of it being a “public transport preview”.

In January, Greenwich Council’s cabinet member for transport Denise Scott-McDonald said the council would “aggressively monitor” Ikea’s impact on the local area.

Pressed on the issue at Wednesday night’s council meeting by Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty, she said council officers were “collecting data daily”.

“They are looking at the car park and what they want to do want to monitor it over a series of months and when they have enough data they will go back to Ikea if they need to address certain issues,” she said. “But it has been three weeks and we don’t have enough information to challenge them on anything.”

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