Shopping supersite at at London's back door

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The Independent Online
One of the largest shopping and leisure complexes in Europe is to be built in Kent, and will create nearly 14,000 temporary and permanent jobs, the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, announced yesterday.

The pounds 700m Bluewater development in north-west Kent is the biggest construction project in the country and will inject pounds 200 million into the local economy. There will be 275 shops at the centre when it opens in 1999, including leading chains Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser, Boots and W H Smith.

The development will create 6,800 long-term jobs and another 7,000 during construction. Most of the 6,800 jobs will be in retail outlets, and 2,000 will be in maintenance, administration and security.

The MetroCentre in Gateshead, the largest shopping and leisure centre in Europe, occupies 2.2 million square feet and employs 6,000 people in 350 retail outlets.

The scheme's developers - the Australian property giant Lend Lease and the cement and central heating conglomerate Blue Circle Industries - said that they were committed to employing local people. The area is in the heart of the Thames Gateway, the zone designated by the Government for riverside regeneration from east London to Sheerness.

"The Thames Gateway is no longer the back doorstep of London, with Heathrow and the west at the front. It is rapidly becoming the front doorstep, with East Thames Corridor and the Channel Tunnel," Mr Heseltine said yesterday.

He described the Bluewater scheme as a "classic example" of regenerating land previously used for industry. The 1.6 million-sq-ft site will cost pounds 350m to construct. Almost 10 million people live within an hour of the site, which is close to the M25. Job centres at Dartford, Gravesend and at the Bluewater site have already started helping local people to find jobs, during or after construction.

The site is near the planned Ebbsfleet railway station, on the Channel Tunnel rail link due to open in 2002. It is estimated that Bluewater will attract 30 million site visitors and pounds 55m a year to the area.

A Dartford Borough Council spokesman said: "A few years ago this quarry was going to be the biggest landfill site in Europe.

"Now we will have this wonderful new development which will bring people from miles around, even from Europe."

One-stop shopping

MetroCentre at Gateshead

Site: 2.2 million square feet

Employs: 6,000 people

Shops: 350

Visitors last year: 28 million.

Merry Hill Centre at Dudley

Site: 1.9 million square feet (may increase by a further 160,000sqft subject to planning permission)

Employs: 4,000 people

Shops: 260

Visitors last year: 25 million.

Meadowhall Centre in Sheffield Site: 1.5 million square feet

Employs: 4-7,000 seasonally

Shops: 280

Visitors last year: 30 million.

Lakeside Shopping Centre, Thurrock

Site: 1.3 million square feet

Employs: 3,500 people

Shops: 320

Visitors last year: 22 million.