As you will probably have heard, on Wednesday 4th April the Eastern Area Planning Committee of West Berkshire Council held a special meeting during which the development of IKEA on Pincents Lane Retail Park was approved.
The meeting was well attended by members of the public – numbering about 60 at the peak – and also other interested parties such as Sainsbury’s and representatives from several local parish councils. The application was presented at length (by going through the Public Document Pack), a large section of which focussed on one of the main concerns many people have: traffic volumes. There were many tables of statistics which were scrutinised by the committee, including lengths of traffic queues projected at each of the nearby junctions at several points in time:
- 2010 actual figures,
- Projected figures for 2020 (with no IKEA or changes to highways),
- Projected figures for 2020 with IKEA but without updated highways, and
- Projected figures for 2020 with IKEA with proposed highway changes
The figures covered envisaged peak hour traffic on weekday evenings (between 17.00 and 18.00) and also the weekend peak hour (between 13.00 and 14.00). There was no mention of any predicted volumes of traffic at current non-peak times (such as weekend mornings), and there was no information on the degree of change in traffic volumes at these times. It was emphasised that the updates to highways were to cater for the periods of highest volumes of traffic, and in making these changes, traffic flow at all other times would be satisfied. The traffic information was very detailed. During the meeting it was explained that the figures were determined by taking traffic volumes from the local area and also from around the Bristol Ikea site and by factoring up the Bristol volumes to provide the best comparison with the intended site at Calcot with its larger volume and customer catchment area.
The estimated cost of the highways updates is £5 million. One of the interesting points raised during the debate after the application was reviewed was that should Ikea not progress with development, it would theoretically be possible for an interested party to take over the derelict site next to the Porche dealership without needing to apply for planning permission and not need to address any issues that may be introduced with increasing traffic volumes. The view of some councillors was that because Ikea had needed to apply for planning permission, any potential traffic issues also needed to be addressed. Refusing the planning application might lead to worse traffic issues in the future than if it were granted, and the phrase “we should be careful what we wish for” was used.
In terms of public transport, the proposal is for the number 26 bus route to be extended from outside of Sainsbury’s to outside of IKEA instead. Buses will stand outside Ikea. The National Express coach stop will move from Junction 12 to Junction 11, which may be an inconvenience for local residents who are currently able to walk to the stop, but is thought by West Berks Council to ease the burden of traffic at the Sainsbury’s bus stop in the future.
When built, the store will be 22 metres high (equivalent to a 7-storey building) and provide over 39,000 sq. metres (425,000 sq. ft.) of retail floor space over 3 levels. The car park will contain 1,179 spaces with over 50 spaces dedicated to disabled users, another 50+ for families and 36 more dedicated for staff. Around 400 jobs will be created, consisting of both full- and part-time roles.
The decision was made to approve the application by a vote of 7 votes for to 4 against.