Westfield Shopping Centre: preview

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Maggie Davis gets a sneak preview of Europe’s biggest shopping centre, which is all set to open its doors to Londoners next week – unless they’re wearing a hoodie

  • It’s a crisp October morning two weeks before the biggest shopping centre in Europe flings its mighty doors open. Shepherd’s Bush buzzes with builders clad in hard hats and steel-capped boots; the local cafés heave. Clearly something monumental is happening to this once-barren patch of west London – and the facelift for Shepherd’s Bush tube station is the first clue. A quick jaunt to White City tells the same story: more builders, jammed traffic and a spanking new tube station, Wood Lane. Peek down a side street, and there it looms, the gargantuan pale green and glass structure that will soon be known to millions as Westfield London.

    Inside, the structure is infinitely better-looking. An undulating ‘rolling’ glass roof covers the 43-acre space, which includes a football pitch-sized atrium. Natural daylight floods in and eliminates the use of horrid strip lighting (the planet thanks you). The floors are made from huge slabs of marble and natural stone. This is a shopping centre all right, but not as we know it.
    As I walk through the softly lit curvaceous section coined The Village – designed by architect Michael Gabellini – and drool over the windows of Chanel while en route to the Apple Store, it hardly feels like a typical shopping-centre experience. This is a world away from the banal UK shopping mall which generally involves monstrous concrete structures, branches of Clinton Cards and an aroma of urine.

    This is certainly the most ambitious project to date for Australian firm Westfield which, along with its partner company Commerz Real, has pumped a staggering £1.7 billion into the venture. Established by Frank Lowy and John Saunders in the 1950s, Westfield has been slowly but surely taking over the world’s shopping malls ever since; currently it owns 118 centres across Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the UK. The latter includes the profitable, hugely popular Westfield Derby and work has already commenced on a gigantic mall in Stratford, due to open in 2010, cunningly situated right next to the Olympic village.

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    Builders finishing the famous undulating roof

    Over at Westfield London, W12, the stats are overwhelmingly impressive. More than 265 shops will inhabit the six-floor site, and as well as the 14-screen cinema, there will be 50, yes, 50, places to eat. If you must insist on driving, 4,500 new parking spaces await you, 220 of them valet. Meanwhile, cyclists have 600 cycle racks to choose from, and there are four tube stops in the vicinity as well as endless bus routes and a new overground train route, the West London Line, stretching from Clapham Junction to Willesden. With the library, wildlife centre, gym and luxury spa (destined to open next year), some visitors may never feel the need to leave.

    The list of retailers is equally illustrious. Five ‘anchor stores’ including Waitrose, M&S and Debenhams share the premises with numerous high-street staples, a scattering of independents, some shops that are entirely new to the UK – such as Ugg and Leona Edmiston plus – and here’s the USP – 40 luxury brands including Louis Vuitton and Tiffany. Which casts a rather large shadow over Shepherd’s Bush’s nearby West12 centre with its Morrisons, JD Wetherspoon pub and Argos. However, don’t expect to see the varied demographic you might catch at West12 or nearby Shepherd’s Bush Market, because hoodies have been banned. The shopping centre will have security staff to police those entering and exiting, 80 in total alongside 680 CCTV cameras and a 24-hour security monitoring room. Many market traders aren’t even worried they will lose trade to the new swanky shopping centre. ‘My ladies won’t be going there!’ declares Irene Paris, hat-seller at Shepherd’s Bush market, who has been providing smart but affordable headgear to the local church-going customers for the past 30 years. ‘They won’t be able to afford it!’Who will be able to afford Westfield?

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    The grand interior is near completion

    From some angles, there’s something absurd about opening this cathedral of consumerism during an epic economic downturn. Aren’t they a little worried? ‘We’re not nervous,’ says Simon Hoberton, Westfield’s director of corporate affairs, Europe. ‘We’ve had a fantastic response from retailers who have shown tremendous support for the scheme.’ Indeed,with 96 per cent of the shops leased, perhaps they have good reason to be confident. After all, planning and building took place way before the credit crunch began. ‘Westfield London is a long-term investment,’ he assures us.

    It’s undeniable that however left-wing and anti-consumer you consider yourself, it’s difficult to completely despise Westfield London. Despite its ugly, green, metal-panelled exterior and crude red ‘Westfield’ logo the size of a bus, the fact it will employ 7,000 staff when it opens next week surely counts for something during these times of doom and gloom. Westfield has also regenerated what was effectively a vast area of wasteland and has even funded the £2 million regeneration of Shepherd’s Bush Green, complete with new children’s play area. It has also pumped millions into improving the local transport options considerably.

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    'The Village' designer section

    Many of the local residents – and no doubt BBC staff based in White City – ultimately see Westfield as a positive thing for west London, despite having worries about traffic. ‘I can’t wait,’ enthuses Tara Jones, a well-heeled twentysomething blonde who lives and works in the area. ‘I’ll be in there every weekend!’

    So is it to be loved or loathed? From Thursday October 30 you will be able to decide yourself. That is, of course, unless you’re wearing a hooded top. Unleash the credit cards!
    Westfield London, W12 (www.westfield.com/london) Shepherd’s Bush tube/rail, White City or Wood Lane tube. Open Mon-Fri 9am-10pm, Sat 9am-8pm, Sun 12noon-6pm.

    See our complete guide to Westfield shopping centre.


    Vocal locals


    Irene Paris, Shepherd’s Bush Market trader
    ‘I think they’ll do us some good – the market trade has been bad for years, so it can’t harm that. Years ago the market was wonderful but it’s changed around here – a different clientele. I do wonder who will be able to afford it? I think they’ve built themselves a bit of a white elephant. Still, I shall go over there and enjoy it.’

    Ravi Grewal, owner of designer menswear emporium Stuarts London on Uxbridge Road‘It will regenerate the area and increase employment, but I think, from a business point of view, it’s going to affect us. Luckily we have a very successful website which is where most of our customers come from these days.’

    Laura Smith, costumier
    ‘I think it’s good but it’s dead close to Oxford Street. Still, it’s a good thing for the TV and film industry – most of the studios are in west London and until now there hasn’t been much. It will be great for sourcing costumes. I like shopping for fabrics in Shepherd’s Bush Market which is just over the road so I can combine the two. The more they put over this way, the better.’

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14 comments
Fred
Fred

Great...if you like spending your time shopping around some of the most shallow and superficial people on the planet. Its a shopping centre not a flippin' cat walk girls!! Stuck up female sales assistants in the 'boutique' shops. AVOID unless you like people constantly staring and muttering things to their colleagues... Food over priced everywhere we went and ridiculously stupidly over priced car park too! Only plus point it was very clean, but then it is new! My idea of hell on earth!!!

Suzanne
Suzanne

The shopping centre will have security staff to police those entering and exiting, 80 in total alongside 680 CCTV cameras and a 24-hour security monitoring room. THIS IS A JOKE.... MY PURSE WAS STOLEN IN RUSSELL & BROMLEY CHILDRENS...WHERE THEY HAVE 8 CCTV CAMERA. THE STAFF MANAGED TO CATCH THE GROUP OF PEOPLE ON CAMERA...BUT WHEN THEY ZOOMED IN THE FOOTAGE WAS SUCH A BLUR THAT THE POLICE WERE UNABLE TO CAPTURE A GOOD QUALITY PICTURE! WESTFIELD HOWEVER WERE UNABLE TO PROVIDE ANY CAMERA FOOTAGE! I was told Westfield will liaise with the police...BUT absolutely nothing was done. And as for Shepards Bush police, they were extremely unhelpful...I was told I've got all my cards back so what am I worried about?!

Delphine & Saleem
Delphine & Saleem

As a big shopping centre, we are surprised that it does not have a nursery where we could leave our child (20 months old) and have the pleasure to shop for a few hours. We are sure that would bring more business & social life to Westfield.

Cate
Cate

We went to Westfield today with 2 year old daughter (sun 23rd). It was completely jam packed with peple admiring the architecture. No mention was made on their web page of the astonomical parking charges, so happy when we went to pay and the fee was waived (presumaby because it was sunday?) M&S had completely stopped serving food by 2.30 pm and it was impossible to find anywhere to eat with our daughter without a 40 minute queue. 47 restaurants? just not true, 47 little boothes and smoothy bars, but nowhere near enough places to actually sit down and eat. I think it's a real opportunity missed and as a result we won't be going again in a hurry, possibly only on a weekday so we can eat!!

linda
linda

well i must say a huge place to shop, i know im getting old but nto that old to say , i like shopping and ill shop till i drop but was diss a poiinted on sat 15 nov got there with my friend and could not find a seat in the house to eat and drink so packed had to sit on the floor with a sandwich and a coffee not good enough it was too large to do it in a day not th eproblem though the eating arrangements need sorting im sorry wont be returning fo ra while whent to hounslow next day had lunch in debenhams more civilised you must think of this before opening i think linda

NIck
NIck

Pull and Bear THE best mens wear fashion shop in the world!!!! HURRAH!!!!

mary connors
mary connors

good thing dnt have to travel to west end all of everything in one place nice and warm wont get wet train directly to it cabs and parking and cant wait to try the restraunts fed up with the same old same old in around north kensington be great for a change i cant wait im going to spend a whole day in their have lunch and shop and shop .

la la
la la

How exactly is not allowing hooded tops racist?

lalalaala tamata
lalalaala tamata

why are hooded tops not allowed it there a problem or are people juss being racist?? i just dont get it.

sue cottol
sue cottol

I cannot wait for this centre to open we were in bad need of a good shopping centre here in W12. I live in this area and there was no where to shop unless you went kingston or Brent Cross, I hope Westfield give us the best of both.

olivia Boateng
olivia Boateng

I reside at kensal green in London which means that my nearest shopping center is Brent cross. i love Brent cross but not after the Christmas holidays when it gets over crowded with people. Westfield will provide some of the us who live in the north west area a place to shop and rest. I cant wait for it to open it doors to the public

Nick
Nick

True many UK shopping centres/areas lack charm, but is another Frank Lowy monstronisty really the answer? The building is impressive, but I will not be shopping here over Covent Garden.

Evelyn Davis
Evelyn Davis

I live in North Kensington and am looking forward to shopping at Westfield. It will of course have an impact on other local shopping areas however, it will be great if Kensington High St could cease the opportunity to reinvent itself and and be more like the Kings Road. We could do with a Saturday Farmers Market and have individual one off shops for a start. Are you listening Kensington High St?