Affluent Britain braves crowds in shopping surge

Shopowners are delighted to see the biggest spenders in Europe while charity shelters open to give homeless people a rare break
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The Independent Online

British shoppers battling with the pre-Christmas crush have only their own good fortune to blame. We are now better off than the Germans and the French with average wealth outstripping our continental counterparts for the first time, according to a new study.

British shoppers battling with the pre-Christmas crush have only their own good fortune to blame. We are now better off than the Germans and the French with average wealth outstripping our continental counterparts for the first time, according to a new study.

Oxford University Forecasting, an economics think-tank, compared gross domestic product per head in European countries, the US, Canada and Japan, and put Britain near the top – 16 per cent higher than the European average. At £23,712 per head, this was 5 per cent higher than Germany and 7 per cent above France.

The consequences were seen over a weekend that was "exceedingly gratifying" for department store owners as shoppers ignored freezing temperatures and the threat of recession to fight for space in the country's retail parks.

Bluewater, the biggest out-of-town shopping centre in Europe, had a surge of last-minute Christmas shoppers who were spending more than before.

A spokeswoman for the Kent centre said it was on target to make £210m over the Christmas period, 10 per cent up on last year. "Today has been one of the busiest Sundays. There has definitely been a last-minute rush. The car parks were 85 per cent full during the day and we have 13,000 spaces, so we are looking at 100,000 people. It has been going incredibly well," she said.

The Braehead shopping centre near Glasgow reported about 280,000 shoppers spending up to 35 per cent more than last year. "More people are coming to the centre and they are spending more as well. I don't know where they're coming from, but it's been going crazy," said a centre manager.

The picture was the same at Harrods in London, where a spokesman said about 200,000 people had been visiting the store each day during its busiest period.

"Bearing in mind the difficulties traders in London experienced post-11 September, the result has been exceedingly gratifying. No one really knew how good Christmas would be," he said.

Roads and trains were as packed as the shops, with tailbacks building up on all the major motorways as drivers made their way home for the holiday. Stretches of the M25, M1 and M11 were particularly busy.

Drivers were warned to beware of black ice as temperatures were set to drop well below freezing last night. But conditions today were forecast to be much better than Saturday, when snow fell over the north of the country.

"There will be a sprinkling of snow in the south but nothing like Saturday. The main warning tonight is about black ice, which will occur throughout most of the country," an AA Roadwatch spokesman said.

Freezing weather also caused problems for Eurostar, already coping with stoppages by staff in France and London. Two London-bound trains were hit by electrical faults in the Channel Tunnel when snow that had encrusted locomotives in France melted. One train arrived in Waterloo an hour late and the other was sent back to Calais for passengers to get another train.

Much of Britain was forecast to have snow falls tomorrow, forcing bookmakers to again cuts the odds against a white Christmas. "Cities such as Newcastle, Belfast and Aberdeen are likely to see snow, but with the rules of a white Christmas meaning just one snow flake is needed, then I imagine most towns will have one," said Graeme Kelly of the PA WeatherCentre.

William Hill had Glasgow as the favourite at 4-6, while the odds of a white Christmas in Manchester (6-4), London (2-1) and Cardiff (3-1) have all been cut, said a spokesman, Graham Sharpe. "Our pay-out, should it snow in all four locations, now looks like being a record £150,000," he said.

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