Retail is currently hard hit. ONS figures for the year to the end of July 2011 show zero growth in the volume of sales. Footfall across the country fell 1.5 per cent in August compared with the same month in 2010, Springboard's National High Street Index reported last week, with shops struggling to keep offering discounts to cash-strapped consumers.
Still, the Springboard data does offer some comfort for Westfield Stratford, as London did outperform other regions – footfall increased by 0.9 per cent year-on-year – although eastern districts like Stratford have historically tended to attract less money.
However, that should change with the new shopping centre. The new shoppers attracted by the £1.4bn investment are expected to bring more cash to the whole area, and yesterday’s enthusiastic crowds, audibly whooping and high-fiving the staff as they pressed into the Westfield Stratford Apple store, certainly didn’t look like they would rather be sat at the computer internet shopping.
“The level of investment in the new centre is a huge vote of confidence in Stratford and in the long term future of retailing as a whole,” said Sarah Cordey from the BRC. “People will travel there to shop, changing the gravitational pull of shopping in London towards Stratford.
“Surrounding areas should benefit too from the extra interest in the area. Already there has been a boost from the building workers employed on the site, and now thousands of staff are working in the centre itself.”
It’s certainly true that Westfield Stratford is providing jobs to the local area. Construction of the site created some 27,000 jobs, and of the over 10,000 permanent new jobs on site, at least 2,000 are going to long term unemployed. Westfield is also collaborating with the Borough of Newham on an academy training locals for careers in retail.
And with the Olympic sites just a step away, when tourists and Olympics fans arrive, the centre’s retail and leisure offer (apart from shops and restaurants, it has a giant cinema and the UK’s largest casino as well) should help keep visitors spending even more of their cash in the borough.