Swedes reassemble for a high street invasion

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The Independent Online

Ikea is to turn its flat-pack concept to its own store design with a new, easy-to-assemble format that will take it on to high streets.

Ikea is to turn its flat-pack concept to its own store design with a new, easy-to-assemble format that will take it on to high streets.

Frustrated with having its planning applications turned down, the Swedish maker of budget bookshelves has devised a retail formula that is aimed at bypassing out-of-town planning laws which the company sees as restrictive.

The first "mini-Ikea" will open next to Hillingdon Tube station in Uxbridge, west London, the group said yesterday. Up to 10 more could follow over the next three years, ending a six-year hiatus in Ikea's store-opening programme. The riots that marred the recent opening of its Edmonton store in north London - its first since 1999 - underlined just how desperate people can become in their need for Ikea merchandise.

Scott Cordrey, Ikea UK's property manager, said: "We've had some challenges with getting planning consent for our traditional-sized stores. Using a multi-floor model we can get far closer to town-centre locations."

The new store will be about half the size of existing Ikeas and will stock 30 per cent fewer products. Plans for the Hillingdon site, which will be submitted for planning permission within two weeks, show a 20,000 square metre floor space over three storeys. There will also be a restaurant.

In a sop to planners, Ikea has given its most addicted customers a chance to ensure they are first in its notorious checkout queues by including 240 one and two-bedroom flats as part of the Hillingdon site. Some will be of so-called "affordable" housing. The new complex could be ready within 12 months. Ikea says that by building the new store next to a Tube station it is trying to encourage people to use the Underground rather than drive to the site.

The chain provoked a furore recently by charging for use of the car park at its Edmonton outlet. Mr Cordrey admitted the prospect of customers further clogging up roads posed a threat to its corporate planning. "The closer we come to town centres, the more nervous the local authorities get about traffic," he said.

Ikea settled on Hillingdon to test its edge-of-town concept because it is just 10 miles from Brent Park, its busiest store in the world. It hopes the new store will cut queues and traffic at Brent Park.

The group has built up a 13-store chain in the UK since 1987 and will open its first smaller store in Milton Keynes in January. It will be the group's first venture on a 20,000 square metre site, but the outlet is still built on an environmentally questionable out-of-town site.