Is IKEA a good idea for Greenwich?

sainsbury-greenwichHow quickly do the architectural innovations of the late Twentieth century become redundant in the Twenty-First! The iconic Sainsbury’s store on Peartree Way, with its partly glazed roof, curved lines and timber cladding, is due to be made redundant once a much larger Sainsbury’s opens down the road off Bugsby’s Way in 2014.

IKEA have now put forward plans to take over the site – and knock down the Sainsbury’s building, which was nominated for the Stirling Prize and won the prestigious RIBA Sustainability Award in 2000. Until now it had been hoped that a new retailer would adapt the building, not demolish it.

Tony Duckworth, one of the Environmental designers of the Sainsbury’s store, predicted last year that the most likely outcome was its demolition (see a blog post from 2012 here). I’m sorry that it seems he has been proved right.

Designed by Chetwood Associates, the Sainsbury’s store was declared open by a young Jamie Oliver in 1999 and featured heavily in Sainsbury’s advertising for several years afterwards. It was apparently the first-ever Sainsbury’s tore to carry the name “Sainsbury’s” rather than “J Sainsbury” and it was the first to carry the Royal Blue and-Orange colour scheme that then became universal – the shade of blue is even called “Greenwich Blue” in its honour.

IKEA imageThe Sainsbury’s store was launched as “Britain’s first low-energy supermarket”. As an endorsement of its credentials, the building was awarded an “Excellent” BREEAM assessment rating – a rare honour at the time. The store has a bus-lane directly in front of the entrance, where there is also a covered bus stop, making it one of the few supermarkets in London where it is feasible to do a large-ish shop by public transport.

I remember sitting on a planning committee in 1998-99 as a rookie Labour councillor when the store won planning permission. In those days, the worry was  not that the new Sainsbury’s would be too small, but that it would be too big and would harm local shopping centres like the Royal Standard (whose Safeway store became a Morrison’s and then closed  in the mid-noughties, only to be reborn as a Marks and Spencer Simply Food).

The Sainsbury’s building was perfectly in keeping with the New Labour, Millennial spirit of 1999. I remember shopping there for the first time, an experience totally different from all the fluorescent, windowless supermarket shopping trips I had made before. I was young, single, and used to go there on the bus from my flat in Charlton. It felt hip to shop there, and while in many ways it is similar to all supermarkets, the natural light inside still lifts the spirits on your umpteenth visit.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment  (CABE) gave the building rave reviews (see its assessment here), saying “Supermarkets are typically deep plan containers. Key to the building design for Sainsbury’s at Greenwich Peninsula is extensive use of natural lighting within the deep plan building…  The interior of the store feels light and fresh, avoiding the tedium of excessive brightness and dominant artificial light.The use of daylight, combined with the strategy for natural ventilation of the space, alters the building model radically.” That’s a five-star review from CABE, a now-defunct quango whose job it was to be a critical friend, not a pawn of architects.Sainsburys Greenwich

No-one expected that less than 15 years later, Sainsbury’s would outgrow the site and the building would be scheduled for demolition (this is not certain yet, as the council has yet to approve IKEA’s plans, but the building cannot be taken over by another food retailer due to a covenant put on the site by Sainsbury’s, and non-food retailers are apparently not so keen on the large amount of natural light the building has). How ironic, and depressing, it is that what was the building’s selling point in 1999 now seals its fate in 2013.

 CABE further raved about the building: “The innovative nature of the design is expressed externally by the building’s organic building form. The zoomorphic profile nestles in its location, hugged by the enveloping earth mounds, and further softened by the landscape which surrounds it except on the front elevation… The focus of the landscape design is the reed bed system. This cleanses run-off water collected from the service yard, for storage in a lagoon that has been colonised with selected flora and fauna.” Under IKEA’s plans, this lagoon will be built over.

The building has not been perfect, with CABE noting a few years after its completion that “The timber… has not weathered well, with some of the cladding strips becoming dislodged from their position.” Sainsbury’s ecological promises were never fully realised, as the wind turbines and solar panels in front stopped working. But the building is a key part of the Greenwich landscape, and it is a pleasure to shop in even though it can be very crowded at weekends.

So what of IKEA’s plans? There is some information their website (see here) but no images of what the new store will look like (other than the generic one above). A very small exhibition open at the Forum for just an hour and a half on Saturday morning (November 9th) gave little more detail (please see here for the 853 blog’s lively account).

IKEA pays homage to the spirit of the Sainsbury’s by promising  “IKEA’s most accessible store in the UK for customers visiting by public transport….The site is close to underground and rail links and is also served by six bus routes offering up to 42 buses in each direction per hour. Car-borne IKEA customers will be able to use the existing 1,000-vehicle parking spaces on the site which would be shared – as is the current situation at Sainsbury’s – with B&Q and Odeon customers.”

This is somewhat ironic, as when Sainsbury’s and the neighbouring stores and cinema got planning permission in 1999 there were worries about whether the car park would cope with the traffic, and the council initially turned down Sainsbury’s petrol station as it would generate more (the petrol station was later allowed by a Planning inspector after Sainsbury’s appealed). Its promise that the store would “provide a significant proportion of its energy needs from on-site sources” is vague, though they are promising to seek a BREEAM “excellent” rating.

Whatever IKEA’s environmental promises, everyone knows that IKEA stores generate huge amounts of traffic . Home delivery costs extra so most people visit IKEA stores in their cars and take the flat-pack furniture home with them. I am concerned that a new IKEA here, while welcome in principle, will place undue traffic pressure on Peartree Way and the adjacent Woolwich Road roundabout, which are often gridlocked already, and put more traffic down other local roads like Westcombe Hill. I hope that IKEA can offer real measures to encourage people to visit the store on foot or bus rather than by car – for example by offering a free home delivery service, or at least at a lower cost that what they currently charge. At the moment, IKEA’s website says that they charge £9 for orders weighing up to 25kg, £18 for orders weighing 26-100kg, and £25 upwards for large orders deemed unsuitable for parcel delivery – in other words, flat-pack furniture that can’t be sent by parcel. That’s quite a hefty charging regime, which will prompt most customers to jump in their cars and take the flat-pack furniture home with them if they can.

I hope the council’s Planning Board will scrutinise their plans closely and ask why the existing Sainsbury’s building can’t be remodelled rather than demolished. If demolition has to go ahead, I hope IKEA will build something more exciting than their usual Big Blue shed (though ironically their shade of blue is similar to Sainsbury’s Greenwich Blue).

Many local people will welcome IKEA to Greenwich – but not if the price is permanent traffic jams and further increases in air pollution.

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7 Responses to Is IKEA a good idea for Greenwich?

  1. Paul Hinkin says:

    To support our campaign to stop IKEA demolishing Sainsbury’s Stirling Prize shortlisted pioneering eco store after less than 15 years please sign our online petition at:

    http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/stopikea

  2. Pingback: Sustainable Development or Emperors New Clothes? |

  3. tony mathews says:

    ikea shall bring pollution plus traffic problems go back to sweden we dont want you .

  4. Pingback: All is forgiven, planners: you are now needed more than ever | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

  5. George says:

    Community event Saturday 26 April 2014 to object to this shortsighted development. Noon to 2pm. Press at 12.30. Please come and support

  6. Lisa Bishop says:

    the company that would like to build ikea are called lxb retail .the same company who mislead the planning board to relocate the existing council tenants at brocklebank ind estate who have now been served eviction notices with nowhere to go .they don’t care about air pollution traffic chaos they only in it for profit .they cannot be trusted

  7. Pingback: If we’re to have an IKEA in Greenwich let’s make sure it’s the right one | Greenwich.co.uk Blogs

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