Westfield Shopping Centre: preview

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.

    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?

    New_92 WEST 2_crop.jpg
    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.

    New_92 WEST 1_crop.jpg
    '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.’

  • Add your comment to this feature
  • Gallery