Westfield Stratford City opening in tough times for retailers

Westfield Stratford City’s opening comes at a time when consumer confidence is “very weak” but companies are investing for the longer term, a retail expert has said.

After costing �1.45 billion, the largest urban shopping and leisure centre in Europe will open in east London on Tuesday.

Located alongside the Olympic site, the 1.9 million sq ft development will have 300 shops and 70 restaurants.

Major retailers include John Lewis, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, with around 18,000 staff employed there.

Richard Dodd, from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Any retailer or developer would want to be able to choose a time to open, and of course we wouldn’t choose the conditions we have got now.

“But that doesn’t mean that if they knew in the past what it would be like now, they would have cancelled.”

He added: “Consumer confidence is very weak. Our own figures for August showed that spending was only 1.5 per cent higher than in August a year ago, but that is less than inflation and we’ve had a VAT rise.

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“People bought less stuff this year than a year ago. That shows you that consumers are not spending their cash.

“And all the indicators are that people feel that their own costs are rising.”

Developers expect around 70 per cent of the 10 million visitors to the Olympics Games will pass through the centre.

The BRC expert said: “Westfield is not being built solely for the Olympics, but it’s a major long-term investment by retailers for that part of east London, and it needs to be successful well outside of any Olympic considerations.

“Conditions are very tough at the moment as recent retail figures have showed.

“But these major investments are made for the long term, and what this shows is a high level of confidence that conditions will improve.”

Mr Dodd said retailers often improve the quality of their service and products in poor economic times, which benefits customers’ shopping experiences.