Planners are recommending the board, which includes council leader Chris Roberts and regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland, approve the scheme, subject to conditions, calling the site “a sustainable out-of-town-centre location”.
The council’s decision to rush the application through comes as the 20th Century Society asks English Heritage to list the 1999 Sainsbury’s store which currently sits on the site. A petition against the demolition of the supermarket, lauded at the time for its eco-friendly credentials, has reached 915 signatures.
If you’ve a strong view on the scheme, the planning board meeting starts at 6.30pm on Monday 3 March at Woolwich Town Hall. If you want to speak at the meeting, get in touch with the council.
Two things are striking about the council’s decision to decide the application early – its speed, and the lack of consideration given to potential traffic issues. The council has already decided an environmental assessment isn’t needed, despite high existing levels of air pollution in the area. Ikea has claimed its development will improve air quality.
Notably, the planning report talks up Ikea’s home delivery service – but without citing its cost, and it does not make offering free or even discounted deliveries to local homes a condition.
As discussed here last year, a plan to build an Ikea on a more suitable site which really is out of town – next to the A20 at Sidcup – was abandoned after a City Hall report criticised its potential to clog up the local road network. That report was written under Labour mayor Ken Livingstone – his Tory successor, Boris Johnson, will have the final say in this scheme.
Even in this scheme, Transport for London calls Ikea’s claims for the number of people who will use public transport to get to the store “ambitious”.
Greenwich Council conditions include financial contributions to try to improve traffic flows in the area, but little more concrete than changing signs so drivers leave the site at the exit closest to Greenwich Millennium Village and cash for public transport improvements.
But why so quick? Well, Sainsbury’s does want to vacate the site next year. The sister application, to rebuild the Sainsbury’s store in Charlton, took 16 months to progress from public announcement to planning decision, with a planning application going in after six months. That level of consideration is simply not taking place here.
While planning decisions are officially taken on a non-political basis, that’s frankly not going to happen when a nine-strong planning board includes the council leader, the regeneration cabinet member and chief whip Ray Walker. Fellow cabinet members Sajid Jawaid and Steve Offord are also on a board whose decisions often split on party lines.
The other planning board members are Tories Geoff Brighty and Dermot Poston, and Labour backbenchers David Grant and Clive Mardner. The latter two’s votes are likely to be critical.
It’s likely that outgoing leader Chris Roberts will see the 400 jobs on offer as a legacy, while a conscious decision to back a scheme which will increase traffic – particularly from north of the river – would, in some minds, make the controversial Silvertown Tunnel an easier sell, although the crossing is not mentioned in the planning document. That said, any scheme which increased traffic on the A102/A2 could kibosh council dreams of the DLR on stilts to Eltham, which would take away some road space.
The decision to rush the scheme has meant councillors have had very little opportunity to comment on the scheme – and denies new councillors, who will be elected in May, the chance to shape what happens.
But with the application in to list the existing Sainsbury’s store, and significant bewilderment locally at just how Ikea’s plans for the site will work in practice, the decision to rush the scheme through could yet backfire on the council.