Fightback: Leeds bucks trend with only shopping centre to open in UK this year
Conventional wisdom has it that life on Britain's high streets is tough and getting tougher as household budgets feel the pinch and consumers switch their purchasing power on-line.
But no one seems to have told the city of Leeds where the latest step in its bid to become the shopping capital of the north continued today when the £350m Trinity Leeds opened for business.
Some 83,000 people turned up in the first six hours of trading to create an air of almost feverish excitement.
With 120 shops including Apple, Hollister, Mango and Superdry, a futuristic glass roof, public artworks, a posh cinema and some funky restaurants it will be the only shopping centre to open in the UK this year and the largest to open anywhere in Europe.
According to owners Land Securities 23m people will visit each year. Recession-stalled building work began during the mini recovery of 2010 and 40 per cent of the units were let before the first shovel was wielded. Now nine out of 10 units are taken.
Despite better than expected retail figures last month elsewhere the outlook is gloomy with many chains struggling to stay afloat and fifteen per cent of retail floor space currently lying vacant.
Not so in Leeds Trinity, explained Richard Akers, executive director of Land Securities.
"Leeds needed some new shops. There was demand and we knew it was there and we have been proved right," he said. "People are tending to shop less often but they will travel further and spend more time and more money on each trip.
"If someone lives halfway between Leeds and Manchester they might decide to go to Manchester nine times out of 10. Now we have done the scheme they might decide to go to Leeds nine times out of 10," he added.
But although Leeds is a honeypot for 5.5m people in the region the city is not without its problems.
The casino at the ailing Clarence Dock development recently closed because of lack of footfall whilst Kirkgate Market is a shadow of its former self despite a recent £12m cash injection. Despite this, Leeds is pressing ahead with another even bigger retail development, the £800m Eastgate Quarter due to open in 2016.
Politicians insist they have the right blend of retail, financial and legal services, culture, universities and manufacturing in the city.
"We know what we are doing in Leeds and we want more of the powers to come down to Leeds to take us forward and attract inward investment," said Councillor Judith Blake, deputy leader of the council.
But not everyone was getting carried away.
Michael Baxter, 61, was gazing across the heaving throng with a look of bemusement.
"It's quite impressive. But walk out there and see the shops in the real core of Leeds and we have lost Next, River Island, La Senza. They are all empty. We will need to come back in two years' time and look at it then," he said.
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