But assuming it did – on the basis that the financial and reputational damage to Westfield would be so massive it simply had to – then by the time you read this the shape of shopping in the capital will have changed for good.
Ahead of the opening of Westfield, all the talk in the mass media was about whether, given the imminent recession, the centre will be a success. But while no one would have chosen this market to open what the developer describes as Europe’s largest urban shopping centre, Westfield’s biggest problems are going to be managing the crowds and avoiding gridlocking west London. There is no question shoppers will want to visit the centre – and if they like it, they’ll come back again and again.
Westfield will prosper for the same reason that this year’s new centres in Bristol, Leicester and Liverpool have, which is that despite the collapse in consumer confidence, UK shoppers still respond to world-class retail and leisure environments.
And at a time of such monumental economic gloom this has to be a good thing. Retailers aren’t just competing with each other, but with an array of other leisure pursuits for a share of shrinking disposable income. Whatever the tensions between developers and retailers – and there have been plenty at Westfield in the rush to complete the centre – they need each other if retail is to fight back.
If Westfield attracts footfall, the developer has done its bit. Then it relies on retailers putting their best foot forward with great store environments that put the wow back into shopping. All the evidence is they’ve done just that.
Whether its 40 luxury stores will succeed in attracting the dwindling number of top-end shoppers from Sloane Street to Shepherd’s Bush remains a moot point. Other than that, if for nothing more than the curiosity factor, Westfield will be packing them in over the months ahead and is just the boost shopping in the capital needs ahead of Christmas.