Tens of thousands of people celebrated the opening Europe’s largest urban shopping centre yesterday, as London’s Westfield Stratford City opened its doors for the public. 300 stores, over 50 restaurants, a casino, a cinema complex with 17 screens: 180,000 m² of retail and leisure were waiting to be discovered. The shopping centre is a highlight of the Stratford City redevelopment plans, along with the Olympic area and the Stratford International railway station.
International transport hub
Australia based Westfield, owning over 120 shopping centres in Australia, Great-Britain, New Zealand and the US, has done everything to accommodate the millions of expected visitors. In addition to the 5000 dedicated parking spaces, the company has invested £150 million (€170 million) in public transport facilities. The new shopping centre is situated next to two huge railway stations: Stratford International (with possible direct trains to Brussels, Paris and Frankfurt after the 2012 Olympics) and Stratford Regional (with one regional train per minute one of the busiest in the UK).
No white elephant
“This will bring economic activity to east London that has been missing”, said Frank Lowy, chairman of Westfield. The company hopes that 70% of the Olympic visitors will also explore the shopping centre, but remains confident that it will not become a white elephant when the Games are over. Four million consumers live in the catchment area, while public transport connections are excellent and there is no competition to speak of.
95% occupancy rate
One major success for Westfield is the occupancy rate, which was 95% at the time of opening, including retail giants like John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Forever 21, Zara and H&M. Several stores however were not yet operational yesterday as many retailers apparently waited until Westfield Stratford City had attracted enough major retailers. The group maintains that all stores will be up and running before the holiday season of this year.
18,000 new jobs
The shopping centre has been and will remain very important for employment in this former brownfield in one of London’s poorest boroughs: an estimated 18,000 new jobs will be created – including 2000 for the local unemployed. London’s mayor Boris Johnson stressed that this project was triggering the “greatest regeneration in east London since the Middle Ages”. Westfield Stratford City has cost the Australian group 1.45 billion pounds (1.7 billion euro).