On a September morning nearly 16 years ago, I watched Jamie Oliver fire a little white cannon to open the “eco” Sainsbury’s in east Greenwich.
Last night, on a warm June evening, I watched it close for the last time.
At 5.58pm, people were still wandering into the store. If it wasn’t for people leaving through the entrance rather than the already-closed exit, you’d have thought all was normal.
Then some staff filed out, and at 6pm, a smiling security guard took charge of the door.
As the staff posed for photos, the final shoppers left. Some shook the security guard’s hand, one hugged him. A young woman next to me turned around as she left and said, “bye bye, Sainsbury’s”.
And that was it. One of the staff patiently explained to a man he was too late to do his shopping, I toddled off to North Greenwich station.
While watching the scene, I realised just how much people will miss this supermarket. It may not have worked as well as Sainsbury’s intended, but with its distinctive shape and natural light pouring through, it was that rarest of stores – one that was a pleasure to shop in. People even came from across the river. A favourite of stock photographers, you could see it on the news and know it was our Sainsbury’s. Not any more.
Of course, the “eco” store wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And coming home at ten to midnight last night, when you’d expect stock and equipment to be being moved out, the lights shone as brightly as they ever did on what’s now a ghost supermarket. Maybe we’ll never know how ecologically-friendly this building really was.
From 9am today, the action moves down the road to Gallions Road in Charlton. The new store may be bigger, but it won’t be open through the night like its predecessor. It’s already in hot water over its giant signs, which were refused planning permission but appeared anyway.
It’ll probably lose custom from the Greenwich Millennium Village, which grew up behind the store and whose residents treated it as their local. It’ll certainly lose a chunk of custom from those who won’t be able to take the bus there any more – Transport for London having refused to extend route 202 from Blackheath to the Charlton store, despite the store developer offering money.
With wider trends in the industry favouring home delivery, smaller shops or discount stores, I wonder if Sainsbury’s will come to regret going for such a huge new store.
As for 55 Bugsby’s Way, the future is bleak. There’s no news on any short-term use for the doomed building. Ikea’s planning permission for the site remains only outline, the Swedish furniture giant poised to submit a full planning application after what, by all accounts, seems to have been a token consultation with local community groups. There’s even talk of Ikea eyeing up the adjacent B&Q site.
Like so many of the Greenwich Peninsula dreams of 1999, the eco-Sainsbury’s turned out to be a false start. Now there’ll be a solid block of big-box retail with enormous car parks for a full mile between Greenwich and Charlton. And people say London’s short of places to build new homes in.
Would it have been better if Sainsbury’s had never come here in the first place? It depends how much you can tolerate Asda, I guess. Or if you want a steady, big-name employer to give people work – and the staff at the Greenwich store have been exemplary over the years. The new store will have more of them.
But in future, if a stranger approaches your town and offers you an eco-supermarket, you may wish to think very carefully before you accept…
Campaigners against Ikea’s proposed store in east Greenwich have launched an appeal for funds as they look to begin a judicial review into the Government’s decision not to overturn planning permission for the scheme.
Greenwich Council gave outline permission for the store, on the site of the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store in Peartree Way, in March. Planning officers ignored concerns about increased traffic and air pollution, a decision later backed by London mayor Boris Johnson.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles put the scheme on hold, but later opted not to intervene in the scheme. Current Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland was among the councillors to back the scheme in March, along with then-leader Chris Roberts, then-chief whip Ray Walker, Steve Offord and Clive Mardner; ignoring over an hour of public criticism of the proposals.
More recently, English Heritage turned down a request from the Twentieth Century Society to list the Sainsbury’s store, which opened in September 1999 and was shortlisted for the following year’s Stirling Prize for architecture. Construction work is now well under way on a replacement Sainsbury’s store at Gallions Road, Charlton.
Now the No Ikea Greenwich group needs to raise £2,000 to take the case to solicitors for an initial opinion on a judicial review. Payments can be made via this PayPal page. Judicial reviews need to be launched within three months of the decision they seek to challenge, so the money will need to be raised quickly.
A new petition has also been launched to persuade Sainsbury’s to lift the restrictive covenant on the old store which prevents its use as a supermarket.
The architect behind the Sainsbury’s store, Paul Hinkin, died earlier this month at the age of 49.
“Paul was a very gifted and principled architect with a passion for true sustainability and he will be desperately missed,” his firm, Black Architecture, said in a statement.
Hinkin spoke at the Greenwich Council meeting that approved Ikea’s plans, and earlier this year wrote that Ikea should “do the right thing” and rethink its plans.
“Develop a proposition that meets the needs of the many people of London by developing a store directly served by train or tube and built with the same care, craftsmanship and environmental stewardship that you demand from you furniture,” he wrote.
Ikea certainly has changed its business model in other parts of Europe – a new store in Hamburg is in an inner-city, pedestrianised area.
But there’s been no sign of Ikea announcing any changes to its model for its Greenwich store (indeed, no sign of Ikea representatives for some months, according to Greenwich Millennium Village residents), nor any sign of pressure from Greenwich Council on the flat-pack furniture giant to amend its plans.
One of the architects behind the Sainsbury’s store in Greenwich has launched a petition against its possible demolition. Despite opening the “eco-store” only 14 years ago, Sainsbury’s plans to move to a new site in Charlton in 2015, and Ikea is preparing a planning application to knock it down and build a new store.
Sainsbury’s is insisting on a covenant to prevent another food store from taking over the existing building. Paul Hinkin, who now works with Black Architecture, calls it “anti-competitive and is a flagrant abuse of the planning system which originally granted consent for the development”.
It’s approaching 400 signatures – and you can sign the Sainsbury’s Greenwich petition here.
Sainsbury’s, though, seems to be sticking its head in the sand on the issue – distributing a patronising PR leaflet to local households that doesn’t even acknowledge the new store is in Charlton, not Greenwich. Not a good sign.
You’ve probably heard by now that Ikea is planning to open a store in Greenwich, once Sainsbury’s has shipped up the road to Charlton. News emerged via an ad in Greenwich Council’s weekly propaganda rag Greenwich Time, rather than anything released to the local press, while some nearer neighbours have had letters.
Ikea is promising “a significant new sustainable development”, even though it’ll involve the demolition of the current Sainsbury’s store, billed when it opened in 1999 by the supermarket’s staff journal as “the greenest store in Britain”.
Since then, Sainsbury’s has found it’s struggling to keep up with demand at Greenwich, while some of the eco-friendly features haven’t worked as well as planned. So it’s moving to a bigger (and similarly “environmentally-friendly”) store at Gallions Road, Charlton, in 2015, which will also feature a Marks & Spencer as well as high street-style shops facing onto Woolwich Road. It’s an intriguing development for north Charlton, but less good news for Greenwich Millennium Village residents who lose their nearest supermarket, while Blackheath residents will have to hope TfL relents on a refusal to extend bus route 202 to serve the new Sainsbury’s store.
All of which leaves the soon-to-be redundant “eco-store”. As part of the deal with developer LXB which has facilitated the move, Sainsbury’s has stipulated that the Greenwich site must go to a non-food retailer. LXB now owns much of Charlton’s retail space, and has already shuffled one store (Wickes) around to make way for the new development. I understand another retailer is likely to take up the empty Comet store on a temporary basis.
Enter Ikea, which has put a bid in for the site. Ikea’s long been keen on this area, and is believed to have been interested about 10-15 years ago in the land to the east of Asda which became the Greenwich Shopping Park. Now the Swedish flatpack furniture retailer has returned, and this time it’s serious.
Along with Sainsbury’s and Comet, one other thing which will go is the small nature park at the rear of the Sainsbury’s site – it’s understood Greenwich Council wants this relocated elsewhere on the peninsula. Where this fits in with long-term plans to develop the area around the (separate) Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park isn’t clear. Most parcels of land on the peninsula are now earmarked for specific developments, although as we discovered with the cable car, that can change.
But the big problem is going to be traffic. Peartree Way (and the A102/A206 junction) already can’t cope with the Sainsbury’s traffic – the pictures in this post were taken on Sunday at 4pm. Pollution levels outside Sainsbury’s already breach EU limits – so much for the “eco-store”.
Ikea branches generate huge amounts of traffic – just visit its existing London area stores at Croydon, Edmonton, Neasden and Thurrock. Sainsbury’s moving down the road isn’t going to remove traffic from the area, it’s just shifting it a mile down the road. And while the Sainsbury’s site probably has the best bus service of any superstore in Britain, you can’t squeeze a flat-packed wardrobe home on a 486.
Solving this problem will be an enormous, and quite possibly insurmountable, challenge. It could well kibosh emerging plans to downgrade the filthily polluted stretch of Woolwich Road from Gallions Road to the A102 as a local road. Once Sainsbury’s moves, the Greenwich/Charlton area is likely to reach its capacity for major retail developments. While everyone loves Ikea, is having one down the road really worth seeing the whole area grinding to a halt for?
With the increasing pace of residential development in the area, seeing the mile-long stretch from the foot of the peninsula to The Valley as some kind of out-of-town retail barn nirvana is becoming increasingly out of date – something the plans for the new Sainsbury’s hint at, with the shopfronts on Woolwich Road and covered walkways to adjacent stores. Ikea may just have come to the party a decade too late.
But we haven’t seen the full details of what’s planned, yet. There’s a staffed exhibition on Saturday 9 November from 12-7pm at Sherard Hall, The Forum @ Greenwich, Trafalgar Road, while the displays will be up at East Greenwich Library from 11-23 November. It’ll be interesting to see just how Ikea faces up to these problems.
Skint? Need a few quid for the week’s shopping? Why not send a missive to the council’s propaganda weekly, Greenwich Time, opining on how great it is? Note the voucher can only be spent in Sainsbury’s in Woolwich – mustn’t been seen to be crawling too much to Tesco – so if you were hoping to use the stores in Greenwich, Eltham or Lee Green, then tough.
There are those who think that the council could be doing more to promote small businesses. West Greenwich hardware shop Bert & Betty will be shutting its doors next month, longstanding Greenwich Market games store Compedia packed it in last month, and nearby clothes shop Belle shut on Christmas Eve.
Local councillor Matt Pennycook responded with a typically thoughtful tweet.
He’s right, they do. Unfortunately, the council doesn’t seem to be listening. Here’s the front page of this week’s Greenwich Time.
Indeed, the council helped whip up a retail frenzy by plugging the opening on its Twitter feed. Such a shame it doesn’t do this for non-multinationals, except when the council needs to promote itself. It neatly sums up the gulf between many in the local Labour party and the council leadership which supposedly represents them.
Of course, it hasn’t always been this way – the admirable Greenwich Card scheme was launched in the 1990s and helped pushed trade towards local businesses who were prepared to offer a small discount. So it’s not as if the tools aren’t there. But under the Chris Roberts regime, though, it’s been largely forgotten about.
Under the current leadership, the will just isn’t there. But will the next leader listen? There’ll be scores of small businesses across Greenwich borough who’ll be hoping so.
Odd goings-on at a meeting of Greenwich Council last night. It should have been an important night if you live in the riverside part of Charlton, as a long-standing application to build a new Sainsbury’s store on Woolwich Road, on the site of the old Wickes branch, was to have been have been approved or rejected.
In short, Sainsbury’s has run out of space in its Greenwich store, and would like to open a new store half a mile down the road, to the same environmental principles as its 13-year-old current branch.
Marks & Spencer would take up space in the building too, and developer LXB – which has bought up much of the Charlton retail space – has spent a lot of time wooing local residents’ groups and pledging that it’ll bring a bit of life back to the Woolwich Road.
The planning application was submitted in May, and these things are meant to take 13 weeks to come to a decision. In “Royal” Greenwich, this actually took until the penultimate day of November to be scheduled for a decision.
But that wasn’t enough. Four days after Woolwich’s new mega-Tesco opened, on the night of the meeting, Greenwich Council’s planning board decided to delay the Sainsbury’s application even further. But why?
Apparently, a site visit was needed. Even though this is a prominent site, sat between two A-roads, and a visit could have been arranged at any time within the past five months. Also, a “retail impact assessment” was required – but why couldn’t have been done in the five months it took this application to come before the planning board? After all, it’s 13 months since a councillor voiced reservations on he effect this would have on Woolwich.
All of this came as a surprise to the council’s planning officers, but it was to no avail – Sainsbury’s application, submitted in May, was booted well into the long grass.
How did this happen? Well, there was an exchange of scribbled notes, which started with regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland (of foot tunnels fame), and involved council leader Chris Roberts, planning director Steve Pallett and planning chair Ray Walker. And then, mysteriously, the item was struck off the agenda.
Incidentally, across the road from Woolwich Town Hall, and a couple of miles from the Sainsbury’s site, a new mega-Tesco has just opened. Tesco built the council’s new HQ as part of the deal, and council leader Chris Roberts has spoken warmly about the job opportunities the new store has brought.
Wisely, though, as a member of the planning board, Chris Roberts didn’t appear in the photos marking the store’s opening on Monday – leaving that to mayor David Grant, MP Nick Raynsford and Abbey Wood-based Olympian Zoe Smith, with a cheque from Tesco to the council’s charity.
But despite his endorsements of Tesco in Woolwich, he was still able to take part in an exchange of notes which resulted in a planning decision about a rival’s store being deferred for a “retail impact assessment”. (Even though one had already been done – see below.)
So, what on earth is going on? Local campaigners in Charlton want to use the Sainsbury’s scheme (and the long-delayed Travelodge, also backed by LXB) as leverage to make the Woolwich Road less of a filthy rat-run and more of a pleasant place to live.
Yet despite months of prevarication, Greenwich Council has kicked it into the long grass, just as a rival’s store opens. What is going on in a council run by a party which, on a national level, brands Tesco “an almighty conglomerate”?
11.45am update: It’s been pointed out to me that a retail impact assessment had already been done – it’s two documents in this enormous bundle here. Council officers, meanwhile, had been working under the belief that the issue would be discussed last night. What is going on?
Crikey, I never realised Sainsburys was that unhappy about John Lewis being named a 2012 sponsor…
We’re now two days away from Tuesday night’s planning board meeting which will decide whether the Greenwich Park equestrian events get the go-ahead. It’s almost the last possible date Greenwich Council can decide anything mildly contentious before May 6’s election.
Planning officials have recommended acceptance with a string of conditions, including the creation of an “advisory board” to monitor the site (which does not seem to have very much resident involvement, which is disappointing) and that LOCOG will need separate council approval for various individual elements (like the materials to be used). With demonstrators planning to picket the meeting, Lord Coe is reportedly going to address councillors himself.
Regular readers will know I’ve not been impressed with either side of the debate and it’s shown the council at its worst. If approval is given – which is by no means certain – I hope residents get to have a closer say in what’s going on. Too many things in Greenwich get imposed on people without thought for the people who have to live with them, and 2012 feels like yet another one of them. If approval isn’t given – well, Greenwich can still benefit from the Games, although there are many who will rue missing out on seeing our park in the global spotlight, just the same as there are others who fear what might happen that summer.
I do hope, though, that the way forward will be clear from Tuesday and some of the nonsense that’s surrounded the prospect of the Olympics in Greenwich Park will cease.
I don’t think life will be that simple, though…