13 months on, it’s time to nail IKEA verdict

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Thirteen months after the plans were unveiled, the question of whether IKEA should be allowed to build a superstore in the east end of Sheffield is due to be answered.

It has proved to be a highly emotive issue, putting under scrutiny the implications for traffic, air pollution and the impact on the city centre.

The prospect of an IKEA on the old Tinsley Wire site off Sheffield Road, between Meadowhall retail park and Meadowhall, has been welcomed by many local residents, who see it as a test of Sheffield’s ambitions as a major retail destination.

Opposition Liberal Democrats have chastised the Labour council for not being more enthusiastic, pointing to the estimated 700 jobs.

The authority insists it welcomes the proposed £60m development and jobs - but it has to ensure that the price to be paid is not too high.

Now one of the most complex planning assessments in Sheffield for many years is coming to a conclusion. A recommendation from council officers is due next week with a view to a formal verdict by councillors the following week, although the timetable could yet be changed.

The length of time taken to assess all the details indicates that the council is trying to find solutions, and a delicate balance is about to be tipped in favour of IKEA.

But how would a store with 1,000 parking spaces, near M1 junction 34, affect the motorway and surrounding roads? What would happen at the busiest times of year, for example, when pre-Christmas Meadowhall and IKEA traffic combines with a big event at the Motorpoint Arena?

The onus has been on the home furnishings chain to produce answers. As is normal in planning agreements, the applicant often has to pay for road improvements to cope with predicted extra traffic.

Everybody from the Government’s Highways Agency and Meadowhall co-owners British Land to 170 individuals have had their say during consultation.

Whatever the decision, provisionally on June 24, it may not be the end of the controversy. If the council rejects the application, there is every chance of an appeal to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. If there is approval, the environmental lobby has the option of a legal challenge on the grounds of the extra traffic and fumes. Air pollution in parts of the east end already exceed European limits.

The go-ahead would also raise fears that John Lewis - an IKEA objector - would think again about its redevelopment in the city centre.

It’s a complicated equation with no simple answers.