Dateline: 3 October 2011 

Westfield, Stratford City

IMAGE: The interior of Westfield, Stratford City on 17 September 2011

Recession! What recession? The new shopping centre beside Stratford Station opened on 13 September 2011. It is the largest shopping precinct in Europe.

During its first week no less than one million people visited the venue. Putting it another way, the number of people going to see the new shopping mall in the first week was equivalent to one in seven of the total population of Greater London!

So why is it so successful? The answer is probably not a simple one but it could have a lot to do with ease of getting there. If you haven't been to Stratford Station lately, you are probably not aware what an enormous transport hub it is. Its on the main line from Liverpool Street Station to places like Shenfield, Ipswich and Chelmsford. Its on the local railway line via Romford and other East End communities. Two underground lines - Central and Jubilee - have a Stratford station. The DLR now has two separate Stratford Stations. The newer one, opened only this year, now links West Ham to Stratford.

There is also Stratford Internation, two minutes walk away, with high-speed trains linking shoppers at St Pancras and Gravesend (as well as other parts of Kent) to the new Westfield experience.

As if that is not impressive enough, buses from all over East London, NE London and even SE London all terminate beside the entrance to the new shopping mall.

Apart from the sheer novelty of a new destination, Westfield has a lot going for it. There are 250 shops, including John Lewis and Marks and Spencer; it has 70 eateries and restaurants; inside is a 17-screen cinema; there are three hotels; there is the UK's largest  casino; and (when finally completed) there is over one million square feet of office space.

Within three weeks of being open, shopping precincts at Barking and Romford were already complaining that numbers had been decimated in their shopping malls. It should be pointed out that Barking and Romford are only 10 minutes away by public transport or by car.

It would be interesting to see if numbers decline at the large shopping precinct at Lakeside. Another venue that may be affected is Bluewater, although that is well patronised by many people who live in SE London and also by those who drive up from as far afield as Canterbury and Ashford, in Kent.

The desire to shop 'en masse'  seems to know no bounds!  If all you seek is a quiet life, why not try your local high street. It should be even quieter now that all the punters are making a bee-line for Stratford!

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