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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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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Ikea plans giant advertising tower to loom over Charlton and Greenwich

Ikea visualisation
Next exit: Ikea-town

Ikea wants to build a 48-metre (157ft) high tower at its new store in east Greenwich, which is due to open next year.

The Swedish furniture giant wants its titanic totem to advertise the location of its controversial outlet to drivers approaching on the nearby A102.

But even the visualisations it has submitted to council planners show it will loom over the surrounding neighbourhoods, with the mattresses-to-meatballs retailer’s presence being inescapable for thousands of locals.

Ikea visualisation
“Are we there yet?”

The store was given the go-ahead by Greenwich councillors four years ago at a stormy planning meeting, with residents complaining that the surrounding road network would not be able to cope with the huge demand set to be unleashed by the flat-pack furniture firm.

Since then, the firm has sponsored a “sustainability” prize at a business awards run by the council, while councillors joined Ikea executives at a ceremony to mark the start of building work on the site, with deputy leader Danny Thorpe praising the company for “working directly with local community groups”.

Blackwall Lane
View from Blackwall Lane, Greenwich (the Ikea totem is actually above a traffic light)

However, Ikea’s latest plans look set to be a headache for councillors – particularly at election time – with even a visualisation at the bottom of Blackwall Lane, half a mile from the store, showing the retailer’s yellow and blue logo dominating the view.

Signage from the Bugsby Way retail parks has caused upset for local groups for decades – the geography of the area means residents up the hill in Blackheath or Charlton can find retailers’ logos suddenly popping up to disrupt their views across London.

Three years ago, Sainsbury’s illegally installed an illuminated sign despite having planning permission refused, while there have been some complaints about the lighting from Primark’s new store.

To have your say on the totem, visit Greenwich Council’s planning search and look for reference 18/0718/A.

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  • Ikea coming to Greenwich – can we stop it grinding Charlton to a halt?

    Ikea plan
    As you may know already, Ikea has planning permission to build a store on the site of the old “eco” Sainsbury’s in Greenwich – a prospect which has flat-pack furniture fans five miles already reaching for their car keys, and residents who live a mile away groaning.

    Campaigners against the store recently switched to a strategy of damage limitation after being advised that a legal challenge would be unlikely to work, since Transport for London had agreed with Ikea’s claim that the development would not add extra traffic to the area.

    The new Ikea will come on top of a relocated Sainsbury’s plus M&S at Gallions Road, another an expanded retail park close to the river, and a relocated Matalan on Woolwich Road.

    For its part, Ikea has been talking to local residents’ groups, including the Charlton Society and Charlton Central Residents’ Association.

    The Charlton Society says:

    “How can we make the best of this situation? What do we, as neighbours of the proposed store, want to see to prevent Ikea grinding local transport to a halt? What do we think the store should look like? And what part should Ikea play in the local community?

    “The Charlton Society’s planning committee is talking to Ikea about the future. We’d like to hear your ideas. Should the road junction at the Woolwich Road flyover be altered? How can we make it easier for people to have goods delivered? What extra public transport would you like to see? And how can we improve on Ikea’s trademark blue box?”

    Ideas include emulating the new-ish Ikea store in Altona, Hamburg, which is aimed at attracting a 50/50 split between car drivers and those coming on public transport, on bike or by foot.

    Do you have any ideas you can feed into the process? Let the Charlton Society know.