Maria Regazzi is heading out of the Ikea in Ballymun without the Venetian blinds she came in for, but with a bulging blue bag holding a chopping board and plastic sink rack.
When you come to Ikea, you always get more than what you came for, she says. “It’s always the way.”
Regazzi lives in Ballymun but drove with two kids, she says. “It’s easier if you have kids, to get in and get out.”
According to its website, the Ikea car park has 1,850 free parking spaces, including disability and parent parking.
But Ikea, according to planning documents, was originally supposed to have a paid parking barrier at the entrances to its two car parks.
A condition of its 2007 grant of planning permission was that it would have paid parking to control how many people drove to Ikea.
Ikea didn’t install the barriers, though.
Ikea Ireland Ltd was granted planning permission in June 2007 for its big store and hundreds of car-parking spaces.
The planning application counts 623 car parking spaces in an enclosed parking area, 904 at surface level and 12 coach parking spaces.
When it was granted permission, there was a condition that it would have to include car parking with controlled barriers at entry and exit points, and charges for parking during all public opening hours.
Automated traffic counters would measure cars coming in and out, and data would be sent to the city’s traffic control centres.
There shouldn’t be more than 1,700 cars on Sundays and bank holidays, and half of that at less busy times, it says. The parking charges could be adjusted based on the real traffic counts and those thresholds, it says.
The reason for paid parking would be to restrict traffic impacts on the area, and in the interests of proper planning and sustainable development, it says.
According to a March 2022 email – written by Paddy Hughes, a Fingal County Council planning officer, in response to an enforcement complaint – the decision to not include paid parking at Ikea was made during a compliance process after the store was up and running.
“Prior to the opening of the store in 2010 there were fears that there would be major traffic congestion in the Ballymun area and at the Naul Interchange on the M50,” said Hughes.
“Happily however, this congestion did not materialise and the requirement for paid car parking in the Ikea car park was lessened considerably,” he said.
He also noted how changes to paid parking for another car park in South Dublin had been considered exempted development by An Bord Pleanála, meaning it didn’t require planning permission.
In a 17 February 2022 enforcement file, Hughes said the council had already looked at the issue in 2013.
At that time, it found that Ikea was complying with the planning permission conditions surrounding its car park.
Furthermore, “A planning authority has a period of 12 years after the date of final grant of Planning Permission to embark on enforcement action in respect of non-compliance with a Condition of the Planning Permission,” he wrote. “This period has now expired …”
Kieran Rose, a former planner with Dublin City Council, says that across planning law, generally, if a certain length of time has passed, then enforcement can’t be taken.
Which is reasonable, he says. There’s also the seven-year rule that means it’s generally not possible to take enforcement proceedings seven years after an unauthorised development has been built or started.
The seven-year rule is reasonable, he says. “If people didn’t think it was a problem for seven years, why do they think it is now?”
It would be different if people had been complaining about it, and the local authority just hadn’t done anything, he says.
Ikea didn’t respond to queries on Tuesday asking why it did not include paid parking in the car park.
The Future of the Big-Box Stores
Organisations such as the Retail Grocery Dairy & Allied Trades Association have long complained about disparities in the parking regimes for town centres and out-of-town shopping centres and big-box stores – the former often costly and the latter often free – and the unsustainable transport and retail patterns that this encourages.
At Ikea on Tuesday, Regazzi says she wouldn’t be a fan of having to pay for parking. “I don’t think it would be fair,” she says. Many people drive up from the country to shop there and that’s an expensive trip.
Orla Walsh is heading in from her car for a few bits in Ikea. When she lived in the United States she never had to pay for parking, she says, so she thinks it would be unfair to pay here.
“People coming up from Limerick or Galway, they already have to pay a whole lot,” she says.
Since only two bus routes (140 and 155) stop outside Ikea, people may not have alternatives, so they may not come, or else they would be annoyed about having to pay, says Sapish Chandra, heading towards the light of the Ikea entrance from the chilly car park.
Ann Graves, a Sinn Féin councillor on Fingal County Council, says it’s hard to imagine going to Ikea without a car. “Even if you’re on a bus route,” she says. “You go in for a packet of pegs and you come out with 10 baskets full of stuff!”
Ikea is designed for car use, says Dean Mulligan, an Independents 4 Change councillor. “They don’t tend to have paid parking because it doesn’t suit their business ethos, because people spend a significant amount of time there.”
Sometimes, paid parking, or a lack of parking at a busy location, can mean nearby housing estates can end up suffering from high volumes of parking on narrow streets, says Mulligan.
Opposite Ikea, across St Margaret’s Road, is a building site and behind that, housing estates like Carton Way, Balbutcher Lane, in Ballymun.
Mulligan says at the Swords Pavilions Shopping Centre, some staff park in nearby housing estates so they don’t have to pay for parking during shifts.
“The car park ends up spreading out to the peripheries of the community,” he says, which is why planning conditions don’t tend to require paid parking.
Ian Carey, a Green Party councillor, says Ikea’s business model might not be compatible with reducing carbon emissions, given the car use that it encourages.
“People drive very long distances to places like Ikea, which undermines local businesses around the country,” he says. “It forces people into cars when otherwise they might not.”
Instead, perhaps they should encourage getting customers to arrive by means of public transport or cycling, and then offering delivery if they do, Carey says.