According to traders, the new arrival of the Westfield shopping centre, which will form a gateway to the London Olympics, has left local commercial property businesses struggling to stay afloat.
When Westfield Stratford City, which cost £1.4 billion to build, opened its doors in east London back in September amidst a flurry of publicity, there were promises that its “fabulous” restaurants and shops would benefit the whole area. However, three months on, local commercial property retailers say they are struggling to stay afloat as shoppers head straight for the new centre and ignore the old shops and cafes.
Some traders have reported a decline in trade of as much as 90 per cent since the opening of the shopping centre, with others saying the devastating impact it has had on their businesses means they have no future.
Owner Alan Harris of the Card Shop on the Broadway in Stratford, said he used to see trade at his card shop increase by 30 per cent around Christmas, however this year it declined by 40 per cent. speaking of the hard times, Mr Harris said: “If you go over to Westfield, it’s heaving with people. Quite clearly we are going to be destroyed ultimately. We haven’t got a long-term future.”
Owner of commercial property Latin Quarter, a local cocktail bar and restaurant, Daniel Downes, said the place had been empty since Westfield opened. “The trade in the restaurant had disappeared. We’re talking about a 90% [decline].”
Mr Downes further added: “Before Westfield opened, business was fine. In fact I thought things were looking quite good and on the way up. But it’s almost like I have to restart my business all over again now. It’s lost. Stratford has become almost like a ghost-town.”
If customers continue to turn away from his commercial property, in favour of the 50 dining options at Westfield, there is no doubt he will have to close, the 48-year-old added.
Fiaz Abdul, 59, who has run the American Street Wear commercial property clothes shop on The Grove, just down the road from Westfield, for over 35 years, painted a similar picture. He said: “Trade is very slow. But since the centre opened it’s got worse. It was better before.”
Mr Abdul also estimated his takings had declined by about 90 per cent since September, stating: “That sounds about accurate. But I can’t go away; I have to carry on, although I am worried.”
The nearby Stratford commercial property shopping centre has been open for 35 years but is now dwarfed by its new neighbour.
However, its owners insist Westfield has had a positive knock on effect, with footfall increasing every month at the smaller centre since its more glamorous cousin opened, and the Stratford area-one of London’s more destitute neighbourhoods enjoying something of a revitalisation.
A spokesman for the centre said: “The owners of the centre have been pleased and surprised by what’s gone on. We have to concede that the Stratford Centre doesn’t look quite as good as it newer, sexier cousin opposite but we’ve got major development plans for the centre including a refurbishment.”
However traders inside the Stratford commercial property shopping centre are dubious about the benefits of its more-glamorous neighbour.
Pharmacist Ali Asger said his shop had been serving the community for the past 45 years but may now have to consider closing. Asger said trade at his shop, Stratford Pharmacy, had declined by 25 per cent since Westfield arrived and if things do not improve he could run into bankruptcy. Speaking of the situation, Mr Asger, expressed: “The footfall is there but I think people are just walking through the centre and not stopping.”
He further added: “Its absolute rubbish to suggest that business has increased in the centre since Westfield opened. If this goes on we won’t be able to pay the rents and rates. This is going to become a ghost town.”
In addition, Darren Brooks, who represents the market stall holders in the centre, said Westfield has had “a certain amount of negative impact” on business, though it was not the only factor.
Newham Council said planning permission for commercial property Westfield was approved on the basis that it would benefit the borough and claimed the centre had helped to “transform the loves of our residents by providing them with training and employment and jobs they can turn into fulfilling and rewarding careers.”
A spokesperson, stated: “Shoppers, tourists and visitors will also bring economic benefits to Newham. We are working with business and investors to ensure they can capitalise on the increase number of people visiting the borough and to ensure that the existing town centre is not left behind by the development of Stratford City and the Olympic Park.”
Sir Robin Wales, Newham mayor said in September that Westfield “represents more than just bricks, mortar and fabulous shops and restaurants” and would benefit the borough.
According to the council, commercial property Westfield has employed more than 2,000 residents since it opened, while a new pedestrian town centre route is being constructed to link it with Stratford town centre.