Greenwich Council’s planning board ignored well over an hour of public criticism last night to back outline plans by furniture giant Ikea to build a store in east Greenwich.
The seven-strong board split on party lines to endorse the proposal, with the council’s Labour leader Chris Roberts among the five members backing the scheme – despite Labour councillors and candidates joining opponents to speak out. The two Conservatives opposed the scheme.
The decision is just an outline approval – Ikea will have to return to the council at a later date with detailed plans before construction can go ahead on the site currently occupied by the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store, which is relocating to Charlton.
Greenwich planning officers said Ikea was considering subsidising delivery for those who use public transport to get to the store, although neither they nor Ikea representatives were clear about what this would mean.
Members of the public spoke for an hour and quarter on the scheme, with nobody supporting it. Opponents included Labour councillors Mary Mills and Alex Grant.
“So many people have got in touch with me – there’s so much wrong with this, I can’t go into detail,” Peninsula councillor Mills said.
“When I was elected 14 years ago, it seemed as if Greenwich had taken on board sustainability. It seems like we’re running away from that now.”
Blackheath Westcombe councillor Alex Grant also recalled approving the original Sainsbury’s scheme as “a rookie councillor”, branding traffic predictions “nonsense”. He suggested Ikea be invited to select a more suitable site.
Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary candidate Matt Pennycook acknowleged the promised 400 jobs – “the people who will benefit are not in this room” – but added he was “extremely concerned” about traffic and pollution.
“Too much rests on underlying assumptions which may not be realised,” he told the planning board.
One resident of Greenwich Millennium Village told the board: “Common sense tells me this will be a nightmare for the area if it goes ahead. We’re not an out-of-town shopping centre, we’re a thriving community.”
Other residents questioned why Ikea was unwilling to compromise its business model, with one pointing out that the store operates a car-free model in Hong Kong.
Charlton Society chair (and Labour council candidate) David Gardner questioned why Ikea aimed for 35% of visitors using public transport in Greenwich, when the Croydon store – which lies off a tram line – only has 28%.
Another local resident, Martin Stanforth, said the Croydon Ikea could not cope with the traffic, adding: “Our streets are not designed for massive amounts of traffic.
“You cannot approve this store until you’ve been to Ikea Croydon on a Saturday afternoon. What’s your legacy going to be?”
But councillors on the board were unmoved – indeed, regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland asked planning officers from the start of the meeting how the council could enforce conditions if the application was approved.
Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts said he was aiming to reverse the legacy of 1980s car-centric development – but backed the scheme regardless.
Abbey Wood Labour councillor Clive Mardner backed the scheme, emphasising the importance of working with local people and adding: “I assume they’re taking on board air quality.”
Both Conservative councillors on the board opposed the scheme. Blackheath Westcombe councillor Geoff Brighty called the traffic predictions “laughable”.
Veteran colleague Dermot Poston (Eltham North) called the existing Sainsbury’s store “revolutionary” and “beautiful” – which led to him being accused of “playing to the gallery” by Roberts in a meeting which is supposed to be non-partisan.
Poston also questioned the lack of environmental impact assessment, and accused the council of arrogance for ignoring the 20th Century Society’s application to have the Sainsbury’s building listed.
But in the end, the board appeared determined to back the scheme – no matter how shaky the case, or how much Chris Roberts’ own Labour councillors and candidates opposed it.
For tweets from last night’s planning board, take a look at this Storify page.
Votes for: Steve Offord (Lab, Abbey Wood/ housing cabinet member), Clive Mardner (Lab, Abbey Wood), Denise Hyland (Lab, Abbey Wood/ regeneration cabinet member), Chris Roberts (Lab, Glyndon/ council leader), Ray Walker (Lab, Eltham West/ chief whip).
Votes against: Geoff Brighty (Con, Blackheath Westcombe), Dermot Poston (Con, Eltham North)