Oct 30, 2008
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Mammoth shopping complex opens in London amid credit crunch

Oct 30, 2008

LONDON, Oct 30, 2008 (AFP) - An enormous shopping complex billed as the biggest in-town retail centre in Europe opened its doors in London on Thursday, October 30rd even as shoppers here struggle with the credit crunch and a slumping economy.

Westfield London, a 1.7-billion-pound (2.8-billion-dollar, 2.1-billion-euro) mall which took five years to build, covers an area the size of some 30 football pitches, and is situated in a redeveloped section of west London.

Though Australian-owned Westfield is confident the mall will be a success, the economic environment is mostly grim -- Britain's economy contracted in the last quarter, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the head of the country's central bank have acknowledged the country is headed for recession.

"Clearly things are tougher, and it will be more difficult than it has been for the last couple years, but I'm optimistic for the longer term," said Stuart Rose, chief executive of clothing-to-food retailer Marks & Spencer's.

"I'm optimistic for this centre, which I think is fabulous. If we make a date to come back here in two years time, I think it will be a success," he told Sky News television.

The complex will house 265 up-scale stores, and hopes its inclusion of about 50 restaurants and a cinema in the 1.6-million-square-feet (nearly 150,000-square-metre) mall will help it weather the downturn.

Westfield is spending money on attracting the more discerning -- and wealthy -- shoppers, with a section of the centre dedicated to luxury brands such as Tiffany's and Louis Vuitton and 70 concierge and valet staff.

It has also invested 170 million pounds in public transport, upgrading two local subway stations, as well as access roads and social housing.

Westfield hopes to attract 20 million visitors in the first year, based on its first shopping centre in Britain, in Derby, central England, which got 25 million people through the door in the first 12 months.

If the complex succeeds, it could be at the expense of London's other commercial hubs including Oxford Street in the city centre, the largest retail corridor in Europe, or west London's Kensington High Street.

And it will not be Westfield's last British venture -- the group intends to open another retail complex in Bradford, northern England, in 2010, and another near the site of the Olympic Games in Stratford, east London, for 2012.

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