How Westfield won us over

The West London shopping mall had a tough start – but life is better one year on, reports James Thompson

When the Australian property giant, the Westfield Group, opened its shining, £1.7bn retail cathedral in Shepherd's Bush, West London, on 30 October 2008, its timing could not have been worse. Westfield London, spanning 43 acres and offering more than 280 shops, opened its doors in the teeth of the worst recession since the Second World War and just before a series of retailers, including Woolworths, started falling over like a pack of cards late last year.

One year later and the mood music from a number of the centre's retailers appears more positive. While the economy has not emerged from recession, Westfield appears to have done so, reflecting that most of the capital andSouth-East England is showing the rest of the country a clean pair of heels.

But others argue that the performance of Westfield London's retailers is "mixed", that it has failed to live up to expectations and that some chains, including Clinton Cards and the sportswear outlet Puma, are already looking to scale back their presence.

Nevertheless, Michael Gutman, the managing director of Westfield Europe, yesterday struck an upbeat tone about the past 12 months. He said the centre was almost fully let and was on track to attract 23 million visitors inside the first year – 15 per cent more than its target of 20 million.

He added: "It has been in line with expectations. It has been a very solid start in a very difficult environment. We really saw a lot of distress, administrations and bankruptcies at the end of 2008 and in early 2009 but the situation has stabilised." After a slow start, it is thought that a number of the centre's more successful shops have seen a marked pick-up in trade over the past five months.

Michael Sharp, deputy chief executive of Debenhams department stores, said: "We have been very pleased with the performance of the Westfield store and it is bang in line with our expectations. We are getting good footfall into the store. We are definitely seeing quite a few tourists shop in the store."

He added that Westfield had not had any adverse affect on trading at its department store in Oxford Street.

Sir Philip Green, the billionaire tycoon behind the Bhs and Arcadia retail empire, said: "We are pretty happy with Westfield. Topshop and Topman have done very well."

Like many retailers, Mr Gutman admitted he was surprised that tourists accounted for more than 30 per cent of visitors to Westfield London, including a large number of Chinese. "We have been a beneficiary of the whole tourism boom in London, partly from the cheap pound and 'staycations'," he said. The numbers of people using public transport to get there is also ahead of expectations. Guy Grainger, head of UK retail at the property company Jones Lang LaSalle, said: "[The figures are] impressive and unprecedented with any other shopping centre."

Mr Gutman said more than 70 per cent of visitors came to Westfield by bus, Tube or train, justifying the company's investment in nearby stations. However, it is fair to say that Westfield offers only a partial picture of what is happening in the rest of British retailing.

Until the last couple of months, trade at London's shops was well ahead of those in the rest of the UK, buoyed by the influx of tourists, confidence returning to the financial sector and the housing market stirring in the capital before it did in the provinces.

In addition, Mr Grainger said there was "a trend towards shopping in a modern retailing environment with a strong tenant mix, as opposed to some traditional second-tier towns".

There is scepticism that trading at Westfield is quite as rosy as the picture its owner paints. Mr Grainger said the feedback was that the performance of shops at the complex was "mixed", in line with market conditions. But he added: "It is fair to say that the mainstream fashion retailers are pleased with the performance at Westfield London and, despite speculation, I hear the luxury retailers are trading well."

Martin Crossley, a retail partner at the property specialist King Sturge, said: "It is not doing that well. There are a number of units on the market already, with retailers trying to get out. Trading has not been that fantastic and it has not had the impact on the West End and surrounding boroughs that had been expected. Some of the stronger brands that are in there are doing well, but they are doing well everywhere in the country."

Furthermore, industry sources said there was still "discontent" over an increase in the service charges levied on tenants after the mall opened. Mr Crossley said: "The huge row about charges did not do them any favours in their relationships with tenants."

Westfield, however, insisted that it resolved the dispute in June by reducing the service charge by 7 per cent from £13.94 per square foot to £12.98, and giving retailers credits.

Retailers and restaurants are also disappointed that Westfield's cinema, a key driver of footfall, will not open until February after a long delay. But despite these shortcomings, the outlook for the centre as it approaches its first anniversary seems far brighter than it was at this time last year.

Let the Games begin: Centre owner remains bullish about East London site

Just like Great Britain's athletes, the Westfield Group faces a race against the clock to be ready for the London Olympics in 2012. The Australian group plans to open the Games' flagship shopping centre, which spectators will walk through to get to the Olympic stadium in Stratford, east London, in 2011. But so far only three retailers – John Lewis, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer – have signed up to take over one of the 300 units.

Speculation is also mounting that the opening date of June 2011 has already been pushed back to the autumn of that year, but Michael Gutman, managing director of Westfield UK and Europe, said: "We have not set any opening date."

Furthermore, he said Westfield was in advanced talks with a number of "major store users" which typically needed between 20,000 and 50,000 sq ft of floor space. Mr Gutman was also bullish about prospects for Stratford because it is served by several Tube lines, the Docklands Light Railway and a high-speed rail link. "Stratford will be like Westfield London on steroids," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?