Campaigners against a planned Ikea in east Greenwich have stepped back from taking legal action over the proposed development after being advised they would be unlikely to win.
Five Greenwich councillors, including current leader Denise Hyland, defied local opposition to approve outline plans for the store just under a year ago, a choice which was later endorsed by London mayor Boris Johnson.
The decision was made just four months after plans for the store – to replace the current “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store, which is moving half-a-mile down Woolwich Road to Charlton – were first made public.
Greenwich Council talks up Ikea’s claims that the development will bring 400 jobs, but neighbours say the store will add to already-high levels of congestion and air pollution around the Blackwall Tunnel approach and Woolwich Road.
The No Ikea Greenwich campaign had hoped to force a judicial review of the approval, which had only been finalised by planning officers late last year after the Government temporarily halted the process. (Here’s the council’s decision notice.)
But now the campaign has received legal advice telling it that since Transport for London has agreed with Ikea’s claim that the development will not add any more traffic to the area, that any action is unlikely to succeed.
It says on its Facebook page:
“We’re really sorry it’s taken so long to post and doubly sorry, because our excellent barrister has advised us against a legal challenge. This is mainly because TfL has okayed Ikea’s transport assessment (that shows Ikea will have a neutral effect on the traffic). So even if we were to wheel out another transport expert that might disagree, it would come down to two disagreeing experts.”
TfL meekly going along with Ikea’s assessment is something that should alarm people across London, especially considering its role in promoting the Silvertown Tunnel, potentially funnelling more traffic from east and central London to east Greenwich. The wider implications of Greenwich’s decision was something Tower Hamlets Council woke up to last autumn, although by then it was too late.
The group isn’t completely ruling out legal action if the store gets built and fails to live up to promises, and is holding onto money it’s raised so far as a “future fighting fund”.
But for now, it looks like neighbours and others are left to pick up the pieces from one of the most notorious planning decisions in recent Greenwich history.
Ikea has recently been meeting community groups – including the new East Greenwich Residents’ Association, Charlton Society, Westcombe Society and Charlton Central Residents’ Association ahead of submitting a detailed planning application.
It also recently met Matt Pennycook, Labour’s general election candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich, along with current MP Nick Raynsford. Pennycook wrote a short piece for Greenwich.co.uk about his experiences.
“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:
– Is a worthy replacement, both aesthetically and in terms of sustainability, for Paul Hinkin’s Sainsbury’s eco store;
– 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;
– Sets extremely high sustainability standards (ie, it cannot simply be an Ecobling powered box) and;
– Can be adapted to changing circumstances.
Something, in short, that is more akin to Ikea Hamburg Altona than Ikea Croydon.”
Hamburg Altona? Last summer, Ikea opened its first “inner-city” store in Germany, aimed at public transport users, walkers and cyclists – although it still has 730 car parking spaces. The Altona store is aiming to keep drivers down to 50% of its customers; the Greenwich store (with a 1,000-space car park shared with B&Q and the Odeon) is aiming for 65%.
If Greenwich policymakers want to hop over the North Sea to see what it’s all about, nobody in their right mind should begrudge them the trip. It’d be better value than some of the things the council spends its cash on.
Pennycook also did something very unusual for a Greenwich politician – he revealed the Section 106 agreement which outlines what Ikea will have to do for its planning permission.
– £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.
While Ikea’s refusing to budge on the one thing that it could cut on car use – its delivery charges, which start at £35 for large items, Pennycook’s “cautiously optimistic” about coming out with a decent result for the area.
This is going to need Greenwich Council to start playing hardball with a company it bent over backwards for at the beginning of last year. That’s not impossible.
But what happens from here will need to be a great deal more transparent than the process followed a year ago, the pungent stink from which has yet to go away. Ikea’s not yet communicating directly with residents, but if you have strong views, get in touch (and get involved) with those community groups, and bend your local councillors’ ears.
(See past stories about Ikea Greenwich.)