So you thought Bluewater was big ...

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The biggest shopping complex in Europe is being planned on the banks of the Thames. If completed, it would be five times the size of the giant Bluewater centre in Dartford, Kent.

The biggest shopping complex in Europe is being planned on the banks of the Thames. If completed, it would be five times the size of the giant Bluewater centre in Dartford, Kent.

Opponents are gearing up for what they are describing as the final battle in the war against the "yuppification" of London's historic docklands, a war the developers are winning with ease. The plans, involving a "new town centre" two miles from London Bridge, on the Surrey Docks peninsula at Canada Water, home to 20,000 people.

The London Borough of Southwark has unveiled proposals for a 5.65 million sq ft scheme, including a retail high street to link up with the existing Surrey Quays shopping centre. The scheme will go out for public consultation while the council searches for a commercial developer to take on the project.

The aim is to revitalise one of London's most deprived areas and create a city centre ethos to rival Oxford Street and the West End. But the plans have already outraged some community groups who see it as the final stage in the destruction of the old docks. One element of the proposed development is the suggestion that Canada Water, an old timber dock be filled in.

All parties, local people and council officials, agree something has to be done if Canada Water is not to be left in the slow lane as development overhauls the eastern stretches of the Thames. The opening, last year, of an underground station, part of the Jubilee Line extension, has made the area much more accessible to commuters and shoppers and is, planners believe, the key to the rejuvenation of the area.

The model is Canary Wharf, on the opposite side of the Thames, a high-tech, high rise development, home to the tallest tower in Britain, 1 Canada Square.

Residents welcome moves to give the area a facelift, but feel it is important to respect the existing landscape and emphasise its difference from the high-rise offices and marching suits that surround the area. The strong feeling is that any plans should build on the original vision for the area created by Alfred Salter, the social reformer, doctor and local MP of the first half of the 20th century. His legacy was a neighbourhood of low-level buildings, woodlands and a genuine sense of a real, rather than artificial, community.

"No one wants things to stay as they are," said Hugh Closs, whose organisation, the Canada Water Campaign, is trying to put the brakes on the council plans. "Things need to be improved but we want any development to grow out of the greenery we already have. We're simply objecting to the vision the council has for the area. That vision is for a massive throbbing concrete heart which will dominate the area. It is simply too big.

"The over-riding feeling is that the green open area in which we live was the attraction for coming here in the first place. We don't want to lose that and we don't want a huge town centre plonked on us."

Conservationists are concerned about the wildlife. The Thames corridor is the largest refuge in the country for the black redstart. Kingfishers have been sighted, and there are populations of water voles, great crested grebe, cormorants and black-headed terns. "All the development so far in Docklands has ignored wildlife," said Micklemus Blackman of the London Wildlife Trust. "You have the water then the concrete, with no marginal grass land in between for wildlife. Developers should realise that having wildlife around improves the economic value of the land."

But Chris Horn, the council's property manager, believes high-density development is the answer. "We think the present town centre is utterly dysfunctional and there's an awful lot of wasted space. Some people are looking at this project as a son of Canary Wharf. If there's the support for it then there's the potential for that to happen but I don't think we'll see that. Such a vision is at the upper end of the capacity."

But the council's stance has alienated many in the community. "To even suggest that Canada Water be filled in just shows the council has never been down here," said Charles Martin, secretary of the Mayflower Tenants' Association. "This is a place to come and breathe. I would cry if they went ahead with this development plan."

Mr Martin believes it will be the site for the last battle between the old London and the new yuppie breed of developers. If the project goes ahead, he argues, Canada Water will become just another area of shiny shops and offices, cloning the frenzy of re-development across Docklands in the past10 years.

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