Purley Way is a section of the A23 trunk road in the London Borough of Croydon, in the areas of Purley, Waddon and West Croydon, and has given its name to the out-of-town shopping area alongside it with a catchment area covering most of South London. It was designed as a bypass for Croydon and was opened in April 1925 and was formed from improvements to pre-existing local roads, from north to south: Waddon Marsh Lane, Waddon Court Road and Coldharbour Lane (Thornton Road, the northern section of the by-pass, was not renamed). In 1932 Purley Way became the first road in the United Kingdom to be lit with sodium lights.
The opening of Purley Way attracted industry to the area and it became the main industrial area of Croydon. Industry attracted to the area included Redwing Aircraft Ltd, Trojan Ltd (car manufacturers) and Tizer Ltd. There were also several metal companies including Standard Steel Co, Croydon Foundry Ltd, Metal Propellers Ltd and Southern Foundries Ltd.
Croydon 'B' Power Station, with architecture designed by Robert Atkinson, was built in the late 1940s and opened in 1950. It shut down in 1984, was demolished in 1991 and an IKEA store was opened on its site. Its immediate surroundings were developed as the Valley Park Retail and Leisure Complex. The large chimneys of the power station were retained as a local landmark, which can be seen from Central Croydon's Centrale Shopping Centre.
Croydon Airport (operational 1928–1959) was also located on Purley Way.
In the early 1980s, retail warehouses began to appear on the Purley Way. The first opened on the Thornton Road Industrial Estate: the Queensway furniture store in 1980, MFI furniture in 1981, Payless DIY in 1983 and Do It All in 1986.
The development of the area for retail purposes was not the result of local planning guidance, but occurred as part of a national trend towards out of town shopping. The retail parks were not formally recognised by Croydon Council until the publication of its 1997 Unitary Development Plan.
The IKEA in Croydon is a 23,000 m² furniture store which opened in 1992 on the site of Croydon 'B' Power Station. The old power station chimneys, with the addition of illuminated bands in the store's blue-and-yellow colours, were retained as a prominent advertisement. The store was revamped in 2006 to make it the largest IKEA in Britain: it was re-launched at a ceremony attended by Mayor Maggie Mansell and the Swedish ambassador Stefan Carlsson. IKEA is now the fifth biggest single employer in Croydon.
The landmark chimneys have been a continuing point of contention with local residents. In 2003, IKEA briefly considered demolishing them, saying that they cost over £70,000 a year to maintain. Ideas that have been aired for their use have included incorporating a museum of the site's history, and constructing a revolving restaurant at the top.
Purley Way Lido operated from 1935 to 1980; the diving board remains in the middle of a garden centre. The Croydon Water Palace, an indoor water park complex, operated nearby from 1990 to 1996. The site of the Water Palace is now occupied by Colonnades Leisure Park.
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