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
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
The RBS Six Nations trophy at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Ireland vs England
rugby
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
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

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?