Greenwich and Woolwich Labour Party

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A packed rally at Charlton House on Thursday night saw the official launch of Greenwich and Woolwich Labour Party’s campaign for the 7 May general election. Activists from all over the constituency heard addresses from Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Matthew Pennycook, outgoing MP Nick Raynsford, and Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich Cllr Denise Hyland. Speaking after the event, Constituency Party Chair Julie Grimble said: `It’s wonderful to see so many people here supporting Matthew. It just shows what an outstanding candidate we have. One who is committed to social justice and will put all of his energy into serving the people of Greenwich and Woolwich.’

Greenwich and Woolwich Labour launches election campaign

A packed rally at Charlton House on Thursday night saw the official launch of Greenwich and Woolwich Labour Party’s campaign for the 7 May general election. Activists from all over...

Few local issues have been as controversial as IKEA’s plans for a new Greenwich store on the Bugsby’s Way site currently occupied by Sainsbury’s “eco-friendly” low energy supermarket and the former Comet building. I recall vividly the large number of local residents that took the time last year to attend the meeting of the Council’s Planning Board at which IKEA’s outline planning application was considered. They did so not only to express their sorrow at the loss of Sainsbury’s Stirling-prize nominated landmark store (sadly hamstrung by a highly restrictive covenant) but also to raise concerns about what a new IKEA store on the site would mean for an already congested local road network and the noxious air pollution that is its corollary.

I shared many of the concerns raised that evening and, alongside residents and fellow (some, sadly, now former) councillors, voiced my fears about what a new IKEA store on the Greenwich Peninsula would mean for congestion and air pollution in the local area, particularly at weekends. As I said at the time, I’m not intrinsically opposed to the arrival of an IKEA store in the Borough and I’m mindful of just how important hundreds of new jobs will be to the local people that were not represented at the Town Hall that evening. I’m also conscious that many local residents actually welcome the arrival of an IKEA store and that those that are implacably opposed to one represent only one viewpoint among many. However, I believed then and I still do now, that there is a very real risk that an IKEA store on the Peninsula will aggravate the congestion and poor air quality that we suffer from locally on an almost daily basis.

My main criticism at the time related to IKEA’s assumptions about the likely “modal split” between public transport and vehicle journeys to the proposed Greenwich store. Even accounting for the well-established public transport network that serves the Retail Park on Bugsby’s Way (the site has a Public Transport Accessibility Level rating of 5 as opposed to other London IKEA stores that have far lower PTAL ratings of 2 or 3) the modelling that IKEA submitted with their application, suggesting that 35 per cent of all customers would travel to the store by public transport, struck me as unduly optimistic. Moreover, the assumptions upon which the transport assessments rested were also heavily reliant on future behavioral change on the part of customers (i.e. the assumption that over time an increasing number of them will opt for home delivery on products ordered online despite the cost). I hope I’m ultimately proved wrong and that 35 per cent or more of all Greenwich IKEA customers do arrive at the store by public transport but the experience of other IKEA stores in London – including those also well-served by public transport – such as Croydon, which sees around 25 per cent non-car footfall, suggest that the Greenwich store may struggle to meet its target.

However, despite the concerns raised by local residents and councillors the Council’s Planning Board determined to give outline planning authorisation for the store, a decision later backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson and left in force after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, having put the scheme on hold, decided not to intervene in the local planning process. Despite recent appeals from local campaigners urging the council to rescind its decision (a course of action that would have undoubtedly exposed the authority to legal challenge) the decision notice has now been issued. So we are where we are – IKEA, in some form, is coming to Greenwich.

Following detailed submissions from local ward councillors and months of negotiation the council managed to secure a satisfactory Section 106 agreement. And while it doesn’t go as far as I would like in some areas (I would have liked to have seen some movement from IKEA on reduced charges for home-delivery in order to promote public transport use) it did secure developer contributions for a number of measurers that should mitigate some of the potential negative impact of an IKEA store in the area while also providing wider benefits for the community. These include:

  • £750,000 to fund travel plan improvements that will be reviewed on an annual basis over five years by an independent assessor;
  • £500,000 for improvements to public transport namely the provision of extra buses to serve the development, and the upgrade of two bus stops adjacent to it;
  • £115,000 for enhancements to the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park including the improvement of the range of water bodies and linked habitats within the Park, enhancement of ponds and ditches and the provision of classroom facilities;
  • £243,000 for measures associated with the Borough’s Air Quality Action Plan;
  • £486,000 for the provision of local skills and training which will include contributions towards training as part of the Greenwich Local Labour and Construction (GLLaB) project;
  • Local highway and junction improvements including new and improved signage;
  • The promotion of travel by sustainable modes of travel for staff and customers of IKEA travelling to and from the development;
  • £24,000 for the provision of public art on and around the development;
  • The development of a car park management plan to tighten up what has been, until now, pretty much a free-for-all for commuters and visitors to the O2 arena.

However, as beneficial as the above measures may be they will not in themselves guarantee that a new IKEA store will not have a detrimental impact on the local area. What does have the potential to make a significant difference in that regard is the design of the store itself and, crucially, that is something that can still be shaped by the local community. In an effort to influence IKEA’s thinking on the store design Nick Raynsford and I arranged a meeting with representatives from IKEA UK and Ireland, including their Head of Sustainability and the Greenwich store project manager, in mid-January at which we made clear that IKEA Greenwich must not be a standard out-of-town blue shed but instead needs to be a sustainable, public-transport friendly building that is appropriate to its unique setting. We made clear to IKEA that the local community will want to see a store design that:

  1. Is a worthy replacement, both aesthetically and in terms of sustainability, for Paul Hinkin’s Sainsbury’s eco store;
  2. Is designed in such a way and with the relevant accompanying features (for example cargo bikes and bike trailers for locals that purchase bulky goods) to actively promote the levels of public transport use that we will need to see if IKEA’s optimistic transport assessments are to be realised;
  3. Sets extremely high sustainability standards (i.e. it cannot simply be an Ecobling powered box) and;
  4. Can be adapted to changing circumstances.

Something, in short, that is more akin to IKEA Hamburg Altona than IKEA Croydon.

My initial discussions with the IKEA representatives that are engaged with the design of the Greenwich store have left me cautiously optimistic about the chances of securing something that is both inconic and truly sustainable. Importantly, IKEA not yet tasked their architects to begin work on a design and they do not plan to do so until they have engaged actively with the local community on the issue by means of a series of community engagement events, held over the coming weeks and designed to solicit the views of residents’ groups, amenity societies and the wider community.

Whether this community engagement strategy is a genuine attempt to take stock of local opinion and draw on local knowledge and expertise or whether it is simply a PR exercise prior to the submission of a preferred store design (presumably, the cynics among you might say, already lurking in a BEKANT desk unit somewhere) remains to be seen. However, from the dealings I’ve had with IKEA’s new representatives in recent months (some of the individuals involved in the original outline submission appear to have moved on) I don’t get the sense that this is a box-ticking exercise.

In any case, whatever IKEA’s intentions might be, it’s crucial that local residents, amenity society representatives and councillors engage with IKEA about the store design so that the company are left in no doubt about the kind of store we want to see built here. If IKEA fall short and don’t come forward with an iconic, sustainable store that actively promotes the necessary public transport usage I’ll be the first person to criticise them but we may just have a chance here to secure a store that will benefit the area. If we have to have an IKEA in Greenwich, let’s do all we can to make sure it’s the right one.

If we’re to have an IKEA in Greenwich let’s make sure it’s the right one

Few local issues have been as controversial as IKEA’s plans for a new Greenwich store on the Bugsby’s Way site currently occupied by Sainsbury’s “eco-friendly” low energy supermarket and the...

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Enveloped on three sides by the lower Thames, the Greenwich Peninsula is probably most familiar to Londoners as the home of the O2 arena. Many will be unaware that the 190-acres of land that surrounds the world’s busiest music venue is also the site of one of the capital’s largest regeneration schemes with up to 10,010 new homes and 325,000 square metres of commercial floorspace earmarked for construction over a 25-year period.

Once home to a vast complex of heavy industry, including the last gas works ever to be built in London, this barren and heavily contaminated wasteland was selected in the late 1990s as the site for a flagship sustainable community. Decontaminated and remediated by English Partnerships, the original Peninsula vision was for a brand new London district – a stable, sustainable, integrated community linked to central London by the new Jubilee Line extension that would, once completed, stand as a totem of urban renaissance and an example of what a well-designed twenty-first century mixed community could be.

Now, a decade and a half on, it’s unclear whether that original vision can still be realised. After a long period of inactivity when, along with numerous other schemes in the Thames Gateway, development on the Peninsula stalled, the earthmovers are once again chewing up the soil. Yet they’re doing so in a very different context than the one in which the original Peninsula vision was conceived. The remorseless rise of house prices in the area, the steady influx of international capital, the Coalition Government’s decision to cut the affordable housing grant by 60 per cent in 2010, the introduction of the “Affordable Rent” regime and a Mayoral administration that has been more than willing to relax its affordability targets and intervene in the planning process to ensure that private development of any kind proceeds – all have made it that much harder for local planners and politicians to secure socially inclusive, integrated and sustainable regeneration.

And so it has played out on the Greenwich Peninsula. The arrival of Knight Dragon Developments Limited, a Hong Kong-based property developer, as sole owner of the site in 2013 quickly led to a welcome resumption of development after a prolonged period of inactivity under the previous joint owners Quintain and Lend Lease. But Knight Dragon’s arrival also heralded a very different approach to regeneration, one that has led to the effective segregation of lower-income tenants from wealthy homebuyers through planning authorisations that have clustered new affordable homes onto the eastern side of the Peninsula away from the glittering towers of Canary Wharf.

Now Knight Dragon have signalled their intent to go one step further by applying for a revision of the 2004 Terry Farrell designed Greenwich masterplan – a document that set the framework for the comprehensive development of the site – in order to facilitate an increase in the number of total permitted ‘units’ from 10,010 to 15,497, many of which would be high-cost, high density and high-rise, particularly those to the immediate west of the 02 arena.

Knight Dragon can’t be blamed for attempting to increase the number of luxury private homes for sale on the site. The private house-building industry is, after all, ultimately a numbers game and as a corporate developer Knight Dragon exists to maximize their profit. Like other developers in the capital, they are simply responding to signals from its insatiable property market and a Mayor intent on achieving his London-wide target of 42,000 new units per year even if it means forgetting about affordability and breaching his own density guidelines (a case in point lies just a few miles west of the Greenwich Peninsula at Convoys Wharf, a scheme called in by Johnson after the developer, Hutchinson Whampoa, accused Lewisham Council of pushing the scheme’s viability “to its limits” with their calls for a generous proportion of affordable homes).

Nor can the proposals simply be dismissed out of hand. In a global city that is facing an acute housing shortage (Greenwich currently has over 14,000 people on our housing waiting list) on a complex urban “brownfield” site there may well be some justification for an increase in homes, height and density and Knight Dragon are right to argue that much has changed in the 11 years since the original Greenwich Peninsula development framework was approved. However, once the usual developer jargon about ‘dynamic place making’ has been stripped away, the essential question is whether the revisions that are being proposed will be of benefit to the local area and the local community, not just overseas investors and company profit margins.

In the negotiations that surround Knight Dragon’s proposed revision of the 2004 masterplan compromises may be inevitable but any bargain made must be hard struck. The developers’ assessments of viability must be approached with a critical eye and any proposed improvements to local infrastructure or the public realm scrutinised carefully to determine whether they’re in any way sufficient to accommodate what would be a significant increase in population. Most importantly, a commitment to creating a socially integrated community based on tenure-blind development and a mix of genuinely affordable homes spread across the entire site must be maintained vigorously.

Put simply, regeneration on the Greenwich Peninsula cannot come at any price. London is not Manhattan or Hong Kong and the local community will not tolerate the place they love being carpeted over with scores of high-rise towers containing flats that their family members have little chance of ever living in. Under the prevailing approach to regeneration in our capital even the most successful development project involves complex trade-offs but it’s more important than ever that we hold onto the ideal of socially inclusive, integrated and sustainable development that benefits Londoners, not just overseas investors. In this latest act in the renewal of Greenwich’s physical tapestry the principles contained in the original Peninsula vision – of a socially inclusive, stable and environmentally sustainable community that would be respectful of our common heritage and would create thousands of jobs, first-class social and community infrastructure and a vibrant public realm – must be preserved and fought for.

Peninsula vision

Enveloped on three sides by the lower Thames, the Greenwich Peninsula is probably most familiar to Londoners as the home of the O2 arena. Many will be unaware that the...

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