Ikea Greenwich’s first weekend: How were the traffic jams for you?

Sunday afternoon and the queue can be seen building up from the A102 (photo: Neil Clasper)

So, the first weekend with an Ikea on our doorstep is over. How was it for you?

The east Greenwich Ikea’s first Saturday appeared to get off to a quiet start with traffic appearing to be a little quieter than normal – but queues did start to build, not helped by congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel. In the retail park itself, queues (of people) formed during the afternoon, with Transport for London reporting congestion in the area.

As for Sunday, “car park full” signs went up and long lines of traffic formed on Woolwich Road…

None of this was helped by there being no trains on the Greenwich line, of course. Sustainable transport, eh?

But… was this any worse than usual? This is the old Sainsbury’s store, taken on a Sunday afternoon in 2014.

Former Sainsbury's Greenwich
Missing: Big blue box

As one of The Charlton Champion‘s wisest social media correspondents points out, traffic has always been horrible.

Ikea – with its notoriety for bringing areas to a standstill – has merely become the latest poster child for years of bad planning and short-term thinking in the Charlton/ east Greenwich retail parks. And there’s been years of bad feeling built up by a decision to approve a store that perhaps could have been better-placed on the quiet dual carriageways of Thamesmead.

While Charlton has had warehouse shopping since the 1970s, it intensified in the late 1990s with the appearance of Peninsula Park (Pets at Home, Smyths Toys etc – approved c.1987 and 1995), the “Greenwich” Shopping Park (Sports Direct, Homesense, Hobbycraft – planning permission granted in 2000; Matalan – extension approved in 2014) and the Brocklebank Retail Park (Aldi, Next, Primark – approved 2013); providing stores which are big draws for repeat visits, rather than the DIY/furniture stores which had been the Charlton retail park staples in the 80s and 90s.

And the traffic in these retail parks, adjacent to Ikea, is frequently terrible. But few go on social media to give Matalan or its customers a kicking for causing traffic jams. Or Asda or Makro, for that matter, which have been there 35 and 45 years respectively, outlasting a whole host of other retailers.

Greenwich Shopping Park
The problem was already there: Traffic trapped “Greenwich” Shopping Park on a December Sunday

What does appear to be different, though, is the queues coming off the A102. Yet this was foreseen, and action should have been taken to prevent this.

Ikea traffic
Traffic on Sunday at 3pm, as seen on Google Maps

The 2014 legal agreement between Ikea and Greenwich Council which enables the store to be built specifically says that Ikea should have provided money for signage to be put in place directing customers away from the Woolwich Road roundabout – signage which hasn’t appeared.

Ikea legal agreement
From Ikea’s 2014 legal agreement

It is unclear quite what has happened to these signs. Pedestrian improvements, which are under the control of Greenwich Council, are due in the spring. It’s also unclear quite what local councillors are doing to make sure their officers are on top of the situation.

The first weekend seems to have been a mixed bag of experiences; some appearing to contradict each other. Early shoppers could get in and out quickly; later shoppers, less so. Travellers on the Woolwich Road seemed the unluckiest of all. Predictions of gridlock could have driven some away from the area. Whether the traffic will settle down or whether it will be like this every weekend remains to be seen.

But with many of the decisions around Ikea so far not really engendering much hope in the store’s interest in the community around it – a feeling exacerbated by the tone-deaf attitude of Greenwich Council over the years since the scheme was approved – for every shopper delighted to have a flatpack furniture emporium within half-an-hour’s drive, there’ll be a neighbour approaching each weekend with trepidation for some time to come.

If you were out and about over the weekend and saw the conditions for yourself (rather than watching on social media), please let us know your experiences in the comments below. Thank you.


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Ikea Greenwich opens: 1,500 queue up for store’s launch

About 1,500 people queued up this morning for the opening of east Greenwich’s controversial Ikea store.

When the doors opened at 9.55am, the first customers were greeted with cheering staff waving Swedish flags.

Traffic coped well in the initial minutes, but shortly after the doors opened the bus lane past the store began to be congested with drivers who had ignored the one-way system put in place to alleviate fears of gridlock. There was no sign of any enforcement of the bus lane, with the two police officers on duty watching the queue rather than the traffic. Within half an hour, traffic had begun to queue around the Woolwich Road flyover, although queuing for the Blackwall Tunnel was also causing problems in the area.

The store’s real test will come on Saturday, when its first weekend will coincide with Charlton Athletic’s home match against Southend United.

For the first day, high winds were the worst problem shoppers had to deal with, with one couple seen chasing along Bugsby’s way to retrieve one of the store’s trademark blue bags.

The store, which was given planning permission against near-universal local opposition five years ago, replaces the “eco” Sainsbury’s store which sat on the site for 16 years until 2015.

It will be open from 10am to 10pm on weekdays, 9am to 10pm on Saturdays and 11am to 5pm on Sundays.


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Charlton Park’s Old Cottage Cafe is back – the big local opening we can all get behind

Old Cottage Cafe
The Old Cottage Cafe won’t be shut for much longer

The Old Cottage Cafe in Charlton Park reopens at 11am on Thursday, less than two weeks after it was trashed by burglars who made off with takings and the cafe’s till.

More than £6,700 has been raised by customers to get the cafe back on its feet after the theft, with neighbours rallying round to help the business pick up the pieces.

Thursday’s new start at the Old Cottage Cafe won’t be the biggest opening in the area that day – a certain furniture store is seeing to that – but it will be one that at least the whole community can get behind.

What’s more, if fears of traffic carnage are correct and Ikea does snarl up the traffic on Saturday, at least you’ll have somewhere to go to hide from frustrated drivers.


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Faraday Works: Find out more about new Charlton Riverside scheme on Valentine’s Day

37 Bowater Road
U+I submitted plans indicating it wanted to demolish 37 Bowater Road (photo: Neil Clasper)

Developer U+I will reveal its plans for the old Siemens factory site near the Thames Barrier next week, with three drop-in sessions – two being held on Valentine’s Day.

Last year the company revealed that it wanted to demolish one of the remaining Siemens buildings – 37 Bowater Road – as part of a plan to build 520 homes at the Westminster Industrial Estate, on the Charlton/Woolwich border.

Until 1968, this was home to the giant Siemens cable works. While some of the buildings have since been demolished – notably the headquarters building (see below) – many remain in place.

Several of them have recently been given local listing status by Greenwich Council, which has created a conservation area. Recent plans submitted to Greenwich indicated that U+I wanted to demolish 37 Bowater Road but keep the rest.

Just as with nearby Flint Glass Wharf – where another 500 homes are planned – this is an area where the Charlton Riverside masterplan permits buildings of up to 10 storeys.

18-32 Bowater Road
The site is just to the east of the Thames Barrier (pic: Neil Clasper)

U+I says:

We know we’re not going to have got the proposals right yet. We want to hear your thoughts, ideas and criticisms so that we can shape Faraday Works into an amazing new place for Charlton. We will be holding a public exhibition where you can meet the project team and let us know your thoughts at this early stage.

Thursday 14th February, 8am to 10am
Drop in session at Chef House Café
19 Bowater Road, Woolwich, London, SE18 5FL

Thursday 14th February, 4pm to 8pm
Education Space at Thames Side Studios
Unit 2, 5 Harrington Way, Woolwich, London, SE18 5NR

Saturday 16th February, 12pm to 4pm
Education Space at Thames Side Studios
Unit 2, 5 Harrington Way, Woolwich, London, SE18 5NR

Details will also be on a website, faradayworks.com.

Mayor Sadiq Khan’s rejection of the nearby Rockwell scheme for Anchor & Hope Lane means that U+I’s plans will come under scrutiny – and may leapfrog Rockwell to become the first development on Charlton Riverside to actually begin to materialise.


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Charlton Riverside: Khan rejected Rockwell scheme because it was ‘growth at any cost’

Anchor and Hope Lane
Rockwell had hoped for approval for its development here

London mayor Sadiq Khan has set out his reasons for rejecting plans for 771 homes off Anchor & Hope Lane, calling it “the wrong development for this site”.

The scheme, which included building 10-storey blocks, was bitterly opposed by residents in Atlas Gardens and Derrick Gardens, who said the buildings would loom over their homes. It was rejected by Greenwich councillors in July, despite council officers recommending they approve it, because it did not conform with the recently-agreed masterplan for the Charlton riverside.

But Khan overturned the decision a month later, “calling in” the scheme to decide himself. City Hall’s planning officers recommended he approve a slightly amended scheme, but the mayor made the surprise decision to reject the scheme himself after a hearing last week. (See the full documents.)

In his written summary, Khan says: “This is an underutilised, brownfield site in an opportunity area and very accessible. It is well-connected and in an area capable of accommodating growth. It is precisely the kind of site that we need to bring forward in order to create vibrant and active places, ensuring a compact and well-functioning city.

Neighbours feared the development would loom over Atlas and Derrick Gardens

“However, I am clear that we must deliver good growth, not growth at any cost, where people have more of a say and don’t feel excluded from the process. I have listened carefully to the concerns of residents and considered the substantial amount of work done on the Charlton Riverside Masterplan. I consider that this is the wrong development for the site.”

Khan outlines four reasons: poor design; its effect on Imex House, a commercial building next door which houses Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook’s studio; the lack of space for existing local businesses on the site; and the lack of a Section 106 agreement for “affordable” housing and other mitigation of the scheme’s impact.

Rockwell revised scheme
Neighbours disputed Rockwell’s images of what the scheme would look like

In his reasons, he urges Rockwell to “go back to the drawing board, in partnership with the community, the council and the GLA, to come up with a scheme that delivers on the strong ambitions we all share for the future of Charlton Riverside”.

Khan’s reasons may raise eyebrows elsewhere in Charlton, where 10-storey blocks at Victoria Way – just outside the masterplan area – were approved by Greenwich councillors in January 2018 without any explanation to objectors, a decision that was later ratified by the mayor. Indeed, Rockwell can still appeal to planning inspectors and challenge Khan’s decision.

The scheme was the first to come forward for the Charlton Riverside. Two others are in the pipeline and may now overtake the Rockwell proposal: one from developer U+I for the former Siemens site just east of the Thames Barrier, where public events will be held next week, and a second for 500 homes just to the west of the barrier, called Flint Glass Wharf.


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Inside Greenwich Ikea: Flatpack heaven with a little bit of greenwash

Ikea meatballs
Don’t forget the meatballs (and veggieballs)

Ahead of its official opening on Thursday, Greenwich Ikea has been holding preview days for members of its loyalty club (including Saturday – details here). The Charlton Champion‘s DARRYL CHAMBERLAIN, who has followed the saga since the store’s plans first emerged in 2013, signed up and went for a look.

We’ve been here before, of course. 19 years ago, Jamie Oliver fired a little white cannon on this site to declare the “environmentally-friendly” Greenwich Peninsula Sainsbury’s store open. Inside, you couldn’t move for reminders that this was something different – even the flooring in the toilets had a sign telling you that it came from recycled plastic.

There’s very little of that in the new Ikea which has taken its place after Sainsbury’s found some of those eco-features didn’t work and decamped half a mile down the road to somewhere bigger. For all the claims that this is Ikea’s most sustainable store yet (TM), it feels little different from any of the chain’s other London area outlets.

Some residents’ groups had pinned their hopes on something like its Harburg store in Hamburg, a high street outlet full of signs exorting German shoppers to use cycle delivery services and take public transport. There’s very little of that here.

Ikea Greenwich
Spot the spelling mistake

First impressions matter, and for those bruised at seeing the blue behemoth land in their neighbourhood, the in-store DJ’s choice of Rihanna’s We Found Love (“we found love in a hopeless place…”) seemed bleakly apt. After all, if the council had seen anything of value in this end of east Greenwich, between the traditional neighbourhood and the Millennium Village, it wouldn’t have encouraged a multinational to plonk its warehouse here.

If you love Ikea – and most people do, even if they pretend not to – then you will fall in love in this hopeless place. It’s an Ikea, doing the things Ikea do reliably well. The smaller footprint of the store means this is a little bit more cramped than other stores – but just as Ikea show you how to ingeniously squeeze stuff into your tiny flat, its twisty route through the salesfloor shows it can do this in retail too, even though it can feel a little claustrophobic at times.

Ikea Greenwich
This way forward..

Ikea-spotters will also note the marketplace – the bit where you pick smaller items off the shelves – is on two levels, with garden plants downstairs. Between the showroom and the marketplace is the restaurant, which was packed – it is likely this will be as much a draw as the furniture will be. But faced with an unpleasant walk around some of London’s most forbidding public realm to get there, will diners travel sustainably?

Ikea Greenwich

The major nod to the community is tucked away upstairs, with a roof terrace and an indoor space that can be used for events and meetings. A day of dire weather was not the best opportunity to show the roof terrace off, but views up towards Blackheath and Canary Wharf will look better when the sun’s out. Shame about the dual carriageway in between, which may make you think you’re taking a break in a motorway service station. A second nod to the community is a “learning hub” downstairs.

Downstairs, the warehouse section – where you pick up your flat-pack purchases – was seeing very little trade; somewhat surprising, as today would have offered the ideal chance to pick something big up before the crowds descend. But cheapskates will be delighted to know that Bargain Corner is already well-stocked, while the food outlet was doing a roaring trade (although the booze was taped off, clearly someone forgot to get the licence in time). Yes, there are plenty of meatballs.

Ikea Greenwich
The community hub and roof garden

In conclusion, it’s an Ikea, and if you expected anything different, go back to the start of this sentence and read it again. The store was reasonably busy for a Friday lunchtime, and the roads seemed to be holding up okay – despite the impatient (and totally unsustainable) horn-honking out on Peartree Way. How things will be next week, when the store’s first Saturday coincides with a Charlton match, is anybody’s guess.

Long-standing residents who remember this as a sports field will wince at the “sustainability” claims. This store has created jobs (about 100 have gone to people in the borough, councillors were told this week) but it would have created jobs if it had opened on the empty dual carriageways of Thamesmead – or on Eltham High Street, for that matter.

But they winced when Sainsbury’s came here, and that turned out to be something people become rather fond of. Will the people of SE10, SE7 and SE3 – so powerless when this was decided five years ago – learn to love the big blue beast in their midst? Only you can answer that.

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Greenwich Council set to sell The Heights land for private housing after only two attend consultation

The Heights
Greenwich Council plans to sell this land at The Heights for private housing

Greenwich Council can press ahead with the controversial sale of public land at The Heights despite concerns that only two residents attended consultation events.

The authority backtracked on its original proposals to sell off garage sites at the Orchard Eastate in Lewisham and Kidbrooke Park Close following protests from residents and councillors.

The plans sparked a backlash with neighbours concerned primarily about parking, and with elected officials over the use of a private developer – Pocket Living – instead of building council housing.

The council undertook a seven-week consultation before deciding to scrap two of the sales, but still wants to dispose of land at The Heights, above Charlton Athetic’s stadium.

A scrutiny panel approved the schemes in principle last night despite concerns about the council’s assumption that because few people in Charlton bothered to reply, there was little opposition.

Only 14 people replied to the consultation in Charlton, with six people disagreeing with the sale, and drop-in sessions were only attended by two residents.

Director of housing Jamie Carswell said: “There has been widespread support that there needs to be more homes in the borough. I had to weigh up that – which is borough-wide – against the level of sentiment at each particular site.

“Not to dispute that there was a small number of people responding, but I had to weigh up that lack of concern, against the overwhelming necessity for housing in general.

“This was always going to be a decision made on balance. Balancing this up, the overwhelming positivity for housing or the naturality at the Heights, that is the balance of this recommendation.”

The Heights
The land between The Heights and Sam Bartram House is contaminated

Charlton councillor Gary Parker called for more consultation to be done and questioned why Pocket had been allowed to embark on a PR drive complete with template support emails.

He said: “Pocket produced a website with a model email and produced Facebook ads and other ads to support their case. I have real concern that developers with a commercial interest have tried to influence a public consultation.

“This was a consultation about the sale of public land. In Charlton, whatever way this is spun round, only two people supported it. The Heights was a neglected estate for a long time, socially isolated with very vulnerable people there. There is a history of anti-social behaviour, all of this has contributed to the low consultation rate.

“I think you have to do further consultation work in this area. You can’t read any conclusions from this.”

Housing bosses said they threw out responses submitted through Pocket’s PR drive, none of which were considered as part of the consultation.

Councillors were told that another consultation would not change the results, citing a lack of community and opposition on the estate as a reason for the low turnout.

Chris Kirby, cabinet member for housing, said: “We ran the same consultation across all estates. Everyone had the same opportunity.

“I believe this was an exemplary consultation – people have had the opportunity to have their say, when there have been strong feelings they have told us and we have listened.

“People do not tend to overwhelmingly respond to something they don’t think is going to affect them.”

The land at The Heights is contaminated and would be too expensive for the council to build on, but specialist developer Pocket believes it can build 45 one-bedroom flats on the site.

Councillors voted to approve the recommendations but told the cabinet member to ask Pocket to build some two-bedroom homes.

Did you take part in the Pocket consultation in Charlton? If so, let us know in the comments.

LDRS logoTom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
See more about how The Charlton Champion uses LDRS content.


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