Ikea Greenwich
Ikea had to carry out the survey as part of the planning agreement with Greenwich Council made in 2014

More people travel to east Greenwich’s controversial Ikea store by car than was forecast in its planning application five years ago, 853 can reveal.

The Swedish furniture giant opened the doors of “its most sustainable store yet” in February. The application was waved through by councillors in May 2014, despite neighbours warning it would cause huge traffic problems in the east Greenwich and Charlton area, which already hosts a number of big-box retail outlets.

Documents submitted to Greenwich Council during the planning process said the store would have 35% of customers arriving by public transport, walking or cycling – a figure mocked during the planning meeting where former council leader Chris Roberts led councillors to approve the store.

Now figures from the store’s long-delayed travel survey show that the store has fallen just short of the target – with 33.2% of customers arriving on foot, by bike or by public transport. When applying for planning permission in 2014, Ikea said that 35% would come by “non-car” methods of transport.

This year’s travel survey – conducted in September – recorded 47.5% of customers as travelling by car, either a driver or passenger. However, when asked again about these figures, Ikea said that the remaining 19.2% “was made up of customers travelling via car share as driver, by taxi or ‘other’”.

The store’s opening was vehemently opposed by its neighbours, who feared the additional traffic would grind parts of Greenwich and Charlton to a halt. After planning permission as given in 2014, by a committee including then-council leader Chris Roberts and his successor, Denise Hyland, some of those concerns were reflected in the legal agreement between Ikea and Greenwich, which incorporated a travel plan. This plan demanded that Ikea conduct a travel survey within four months of the store opening.

35% target mocked

Greenwich said it rejected Ikea’s first survey because it had a “particularly poor” response rate from customers, 853 discovered after submitting a Freedom of Information Act request in the summer. The store conducted a new survey at the end of September – offering free hot dogs and soft drinks to participants. This survey has now been submitted to the council, which says it will publish the full findings online, according to an answer given to a separate FOI request from a member of the public.

Ikea’s 35% target for customers coming by non-car means was mocked at the planning meeting which gave the store permission. One objector, David Gardner – who was later elected to as a councillor and is now the council’s deputy leader – questioned why Ikea aimed for 35% of visitors using public transport in Greenwich, when the Croydon store – which lies off a tram line – only had 28%.

However, 33.2% will be a higher figure than many of the store’s critics anticipated. There is no data on traffic congestion in the area since the store opened, although the strip of retail parks beginning with Ikea and B&Q in Greenwich and ending at Stone Lake in Charlton was notorious for traffic jams and has remained so.

An Ikea spokesperson told 853: “We originally undertook surveys in May 2019 and submitted a draft report to Royal Borough of Greenwich. The results at this time were positive however we acknowledged that the sample size was not large enough to be definitive and so agreed to commission another round of surveys. The revised surveys were undertaken at the end of September 2019. By incentivising responses with a free drink or hot dog voucher we were able to achieve a much improved response rate. The updated monitoring report has been submitted to the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

“The results indicate that 33.2% respondents’ main mode of travel to the store is via sustainable travel modes (i.e. DLR, bus, train, tube/underground, cycle, walking). We were pleased to see that only 8.4% of customers travel to the store in a car with a single occupant, with 39.1% of customers visiting the store as a passenger. However, we remain committed to sustainable travel and will continue to work to reduce the number of customers arriving by car and encourage travel via sustainable modes of transport.”

No signs to stations

In March, 853 revealed that Ikea had tried to wriggle out of a demand to place signs directing drivers to use the Blackwall Lane exit of the A102, rather than the congested Woolwich Road exit, after TfL rejected its request to place branded signs on its roads. The store was also allowed to escape holding a “public transport preview day”, as mandated in the planning permission.

And while new pedestrian crossings near the store were finally finished in July, improvements under the Woolwich Road flyover to indicate a walking route to Westcombe Park station have not materialised at all. Greenwich Council has not responded to a request for comment on this.

In August, the store and adjoining cinema and restaurants were allowed to give drivers five hours’ free parking. Customers who do cycle to the store have complained of a lack of CCTV covering the cycle racks.

In January, Greenwich Council’s cabinet member for transport, Denise Scott-McDonald, said the council would “aggressively monitor” the effects of Ikea in the area. However, the council has continued to trumpet its close links with the Swedish furniture store, plugging it in promotions for its Christmas event in Woolwich earlier this month.

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