MP Tim Loughton’s IKEA letter to councillors in full

MP Tim Loughton with Jack Howard at New Monks Farm, Lancing
MP Tim Loughton with Jack Howard at New Monks Farm, Lancing

Flooding, benefits to the community and traffic are all questions raised by an MP in his letter to councillors ahead of a decision on plans for an IKEA and 600 homes in Lancing.

East Worthing & Shoreham MP Tim Loughton has sent the 2,000-word letter to members of Adur council’s planning committee ahead of next week’s crucial meeting. It can be read in full, below.

Dear Councillor,

New Monks Farm application AWDM/0961/17

I am writing ahead of the Planning Committee meeting next week which will be discussing the proposals for the development of New Monks Farm to urge you to vote against the plans in their current form.

You do not need me to tell you how significant a development this is. It has given rise to more correspondence from my constituents than any other planning application. I have held a number of public meetings and last year held an extensive survey which resulted in more than 800 local people expressing their concerns about the plan which was submitted formally to the Planning Department as part of the consultation process.

At the outset I suggested that these proposals should be judged on 3 main criteria:

• Do the plans deal with the flooding problem in the area, not just the impact on the new build but the knock-on effect on existing residential areas?

• What benefits do they bring to the local community?

• How much additional traffic will be generated and can the A27 cope with it?

On the first of these clearly the developers have put forward an extensive drainage scheme which has the potential to deal with the extent of the problem. I presume that the Committee will want to make sure these have been subjected to close scrutiny by engineering experts, which I am not.

I am also aware that the developers have put forward a number of enhancements which do offer potential benefits to local residents including the country park and community hub. The question is whether these outweigh the obvious challenges which will ensue from the additional traffic and loss of existing open space. The 600 houses which form the centre piece of the development are of course covered in the recently adopted Local Plan and subject to the above considerations may be deliverable but I have concerns about the genuine affordability of the dwellings, especially for local people. This does however still represent a very considerable potential overdevelopment of one of the last few remaining green spaces within the Adur District, outside of the National Park.

However it is the inclusion of IKEA on the site and the failure of the developers to find an alternative use for the valuable site adjacent to Withy Patch which I contest makes the scheme completely unworkable. The huge impact on the already congested A27 and the loss of one of the last major sites available for business development are the most important factors in this scheme.

Of all large retail outlets the nature of IKEA inevitably involves more customers travelling by car than just about any other retailer because of the nature of their product range meaning huge pressure on the A27. A figure of two-million customer journeys a year has been mentioned although only comparisons with the Cardiff branch of IKEA have been provided despite this being in a very different location to Lancing.

The developer’s traffic consultants say that the impact will be softened by 73 per cent of traffic coming from the east, where congestion up to the Shoreham flyover is much less than that coming in the opposite direction.

However, the figures provided still anticipate several hundred cars an hour at peak and during my own visit to the Southampton IKEA, branch managers admitted to considerable congestion at peak periods in what is not in any case a major trunk road to access densely populated residential areas, unlike Lancing.

The intention is to open IKEA within about 18 months, several years before any upgrade work to the A27 is likely to have been started and that work has currently not been agreed or designed and its effectiveness therefore completely unknown.

Whist we still await an update from Highways England it has been made clear to me that they are struggling to find a workable major upgrade to the Worthing/Lancing stretch of the A27 that significantly aids traffic flow and meets HE value for money criteria. This is likely to mean that any substantial scheme is now pushed well into the next round of road improvements along with the suspended Chichester section of the A27 which means an eventual solution is still many years away. The already congested A27 will therefore be required to take on additional IKEA customers, homeowners accessing the new houses, existing Ricardo employees, possible school run car journeys and other users of the park and community hub which may include a GP surgery. All this will happen potentially before any substantive work on the A27 has been agreed yet alone completed. This surely is completely the wrong way around approaching a planning application of this magnitude.

The excuse that IKEA does not open until 10am after peak time ignores the fact that congestion happens intermittently throughout each day now and the store will remain open until 10pm and all weekends.

It seems madness to rely on the addition of a new roundabout, and especially one controlled by traffic lights to deal with this weight of traffic. The experience of a similar junction at Grove Lodge clearly shows that traffic flow can only be impede. Evidence produced for the A27 Working Group using Government and FTA data has revealed that the cost to the freight industry alone of delays at the Grove Lodge roundabout amount to £1m per month. Furthermore when the traffic lights are not working as frequently happens, the air pollution levels are roughly half the already dangerously high normal levels. When the Grove Lodge traffic lights were installed 11 years ago experts from Highways England assured residents that traffic flow would be greatly improved. There were clearly wrong then just as the developer’s experts appear wrong now.

Not only would the roundabout proposed for the Sussex Pad replicate the problems at other junctions further along the A27 but it will have a highly detrimental impact on users of the road to Coombes and particularly Lancing College given a fourth arm is not included. There is also absolutely no guarantee that a fourth arm will be included in the future thereby making a significant detour for west bound traffic needing to access Lancing College for example, permanent. Having travelled on this route regularly at school start and finish times the traffic is usually heavy in both directions and this will add a considerable addition of journey time.

Given that Lancing College employs upwards of 250 people directly and over half of the students are day students, let alone many other residents of Coombes and beyond using the road, the impact will be very considerable. If Lancing College was a manufacturing business like Ricardo opposite for example would the Planning Committee seriously countenance such a downgrading of access as is being proposed here? I very much doubt it.

In addition the plans also represent a significant downgrading of pedestrian access to crossing the A27. As far back as 1998 I raised in Parliament the safety of the Sussex Pad unction which had seen the death of several local people including students as a result of which the lights and pedestrian crossing facility were added. What is now being suggested is therefore a retrograde move to pedestrian safety and there are also question marks about accessibility for horse riders and cyclists too. I know that similar concerns have been expressed by a significant number of local community, residents and environmental groups.

Aside from traffic congestion and highway considerations I am also greatly concerned that the use of the extensive area adjacent to Withy Patch for IKEA will remove one of the last few remaining sites suitable for business expansion. Adur has a severe shortage of business space and many businesses are keen to expand and stay in the area. Lancing Business Park is the second largest business park in West Sussex, employs some 3200 people and is currently around 99 per cent occupied. There are many new and expanding businesses who would be attracted to a new high-tech business park on the New Monks Farm site for example, involving many more higher skilled jobs which is what the Government, Councils, LEP and local businesses working closely with schools are all trying to achieve. Taking this site out of circulation for such use reduces the possibilities for attracting more premium businesses to our area and indeed the added traffic congestion is likely to act as a further deterrent to existing ones expanding or staying in the area.

It has also been claimed that IKEA will add greatly to the local economy and other businesses in the village would benefit. It is difficult to see how the reverse will not be the case. One of the major retail employers in Lancing is an ironmonger business where many of the products will be available at IKEA. Given IKEA’s own boasts about how many people come to their branches specifically for the cheap restaurant this is also likely to detract from the many eateries in the area as well.

I do not believe that other alternatives to IKEA could not be fund to occupy that space which would not involve so many customer journeys by car. I have nothing against IKEA as an employer and declare an interest as someone who has shopped in IKEA many times but it offers primarily lower skilled retail jobs, and well beyond the level of potential supply locally. That is in direct contrast to the policy of the Coast to Capital LEP which is making a major contribution of public funds to subsidise the road alterations. The LEP’s major priorities are to develop more business space in Adur and upskill the workforce. I am afraid IKEA fails on both scores.

It is not clear that the developers have exhaustively explored other alternatives to IKEA. Indeed there is little incentive for them to do so given that they will receive a considerable capital payment up front which they claim to need to offset the cost of the anti-flooding and highways work in particular. However, when I met the leaseholders of Shoreham Airport they boasted that the adjacent industrial development at Cecil Pashley Way (AWDM/1093/17) which is being considered at the same time as this application, could be occupied three times over such is the level of demand. Why therefore would there not be considerable interest in the IKEA site from other higher skilled businesses who could form the basis of a high-tech business park for example? If IKEA were to be removed from the scheme in favour of smaller growth businesses that involved hundreds of employee journeys rather than millions of customer journeys, I believe the whole proposal would be much more acceptable to the local population.

Along with many other residents and the local environment group, the Adur Residents Environmentally Action, I am very concerned about the impact on air quality on the A27. The new school proposed is right on a highly polluted stretch of the A27 which is surely a completely inappropriate place to site a school with young pupils. Recent testing by AREA have confirmed that in certain spots air quality levels are already above Government safety thresholds. The addition of such an enormous amount of traffic can only impact heavily on air quality levels given traffic flow would be reduced further and certainly until significant upgrades have been made to the A27 at some stage in the future.

It has been suggested that rather than building a new school on the site the funding should instead be diverted to expanding an existing primary school in a more appropriate area of Lancing. If that were the case then it could potentially free up more land at New Monks Farm that could be allocated for alternative uses by the developer which would offset further the loss of revenues from IKEA..

Overall this is a recipe for complete gridlock on the A27 and it is madness that any substantial development should go ahead adjacent to this road until and unless substantial and workable improvements have gone ahead. This is a case of absolutely ‘putting the cart before the horse.’ On many levels it is very hard to see how the inclusion of an IKEA in particular can bring any sustainable benefits to the local community and will make the area less attractive for people to live, work and invest. If the developers were to drop this particular aspect of the proposal I believe there are grounds for a more feasible and sustainable development and as such would recommend the Committee to reject the proposals in their current form.

Yours ever,

Tim Loughton MP

Member of Parliament for East Worthing & Shoreham