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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Greenwich Ikea opening date revealed: Store faces Addicks test on its debut weekend

There are widespread fears Ikea will bring traffic gridlock to Greenwich and Charlton

The first weekend of trading at east Greenwich’s new Ikea store will coincide with a big match at Charlton Athletic’s ground, threatening serious traffic issues across the area.

Yesterday the Swedish flat-pack furniture giant confirmed it would open its doors on Thursday 7 February. Signage appeared on the building, on the site of the former “eco” Sainsbury’s supermarket, two weeks ago and stock is already being taken into the giant blue store.

Past openings have led to chaotic scenes – most notoriously in Edmonton, north London, where five people were taken to hospital in 2005 after a midnight opening went wrong.

The Charlton Champion understands both Ikea and Greenwich Council – which has wrapped itself in the store’s yellow and blue colours, allowing it to sponsor a sustainability prize at its business awards and run a promotional stand at a recent festival in Woolwich – are keen to avoid such scenes, with rumours of a “soft” opening ahead of the advertised date.

However, the first Saturday – always due to be a concern – coincides with a home match at The Valley, raising concerns that nearly five years after giving it planning permission in the face of opposition from local residents’ groups, neither the council nor Ikea have got to grips with the potential for the store to bring the area to a halt.

Charlton Athletic will play Southend United that day, a match which usually sees the away side bring a large number of supporters to The Valley, whose proximity to the Blackwall Tunnel and the A13 to the Essex coast usually make it an easy trip. The Shrimpers are managed by former Addicks favourite Chris Powell, a factor which could also bump up the home crowd.

There are mitigating factors – Southend fans could be routed via the tolled Dartford crossing, while attendances at The Valley have dropped significantly in recent years with fans alienated by Roland Duchatelet’s ownership. But matches still cause short-term traffic congestion, and the curiosity factor around the wildly popular furniture retailer’s debut in SE10 is likely to make 9 February a difficult day to get around the local area.

Rail services are due to run as normal on the Greenwich line that weekend on Saturday, but the line is closed by engineering works on Sunday.

Greenwich Shopping Park
Other shopping centres are available: Greenwich Shopping Park last Sunday

Even after the opening weekend, there will still be fears about the potential for gridlock – withincidents of drivers being trapped in the car park of the chain’s Reading store. Issues have also been reported at its Exeter store.

Indeed, closer to home, long tailbacks regularly form inside the Bugsbys Way shopping parks as drivers queue to get out.

To mitigate this, Ikea has signed a legal agreement pledging to direct drivers to the west of the site “to address network capacity constraints on Peartree Way and Woolwich Road roundabout”, with £50,000 for new signage. (See the full legal agreement and travel plan.)

Ikea Croydon checkout
Coming soon: Meatballs to the right, bargain corner to the left

However, there are no signs yet of promised “improvements to pedestrian and cycling access links to the development from Westcombe Park and Charlton railway stations”, due to come from £750,000 to promote “travel by sustainable modes”. Work to widen Peartree Lane to create a southbound bus lane has started, though, and extra pedestrian/cycle crossings are being installed on Bugsby’s Way, which could address a promise to improve links from North Greenwich station. The store also pledged to pay £500,000 for extra bus services.

In a press release not sent to this website, Ikea promises to be “being a good neighbour and a true partner in the local community”, offering “a wide choice of affordable delivery services will be available, from 24-hour delivery for those living within the Royal Borough of Greenwich, to a Zedify bike courier service, competitively priced mini cabs and Hertz EV [electric] van hire”.

For the first 10 weeks the store is open, it will also have a special offer on home delivery for those who live within 40 minutes on public transport – although if pessimists’ predictions are true, that could be a very small area indeed on the opening weekend.


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