It may be a case of unfortunate timing in the wake of news that we are now in a recession, but next Thursday sees the opening of the huge new Westfield shopping development in Shepherds Bush.
Built by the Westfield Group, this is - by any standards - a huge development. Situated on the former 1908 Exhibition Site near White City, this £1.6 billion development has been 10 years in the building. It covers 43 acres, with 265 shops and 40 restaurants set around a central atrium the size of a football pitch, under a vast undulating glass roof. The emphasis is on clothing outlets, with 16 brands new to the UK and a 'village' of smaller designer boutiques. On the south side is a traffic free 'boulevard', with 300 metres of restaurants. It's also been built with eco-credentials, such as a partial 'green roof', rainwater harvesting and facilities for waste separation and recycling. It will be Europe's largest in-town shopping centre, and the third largest in the UK, after the Gateshead Metro Centre and Bluewater in Kent.
And, as I reported in a previous blog, the developers have funded a huge investment in the local transport infrastructure to ensure that visitors can get to the site with ease: two new railway stations, one rebuilt underground station, a bus station, a new flyover from the A40 link road, and new pedestrian access. In preparation, London Transport have also diverted a number of bus routes to serve the area.
It'll be interesting to see what happens, on two counts: the first, and most obvious, is how it fares given we now seem to be in a full-blown recession. Recent news reports from the new shopping centre in Bristol have shown it to be busy with visitors, but a more careful look shows them not to be buying much: window shopping seems to be the order of the day.
The second is what it does to the rest of Shepherds Bush. Despite the asset of the green, Shepherds Bush has always had a rather mixed feel: lots of independent shops, as cosmopolitan as London gets, but decidedly down at heel, especially compared with the neighbouring parts of West London. The conundrum here - if there is indeed a ripple effect of prosperity - is whether the wider area can benefit without becoming another faceless High Street clone.
Certainly, the better public transport links should make a difference, especially tying the area into the rest of West London in what has been, until now, a decidedly hard-to-reach destination. (As recently as six months ago, there were no direct public transport links from Chelsea and Earl's Court to Shepherd's Bush). But will people simply walk straight through to the new centre? Will the two actually mix? Will someone buying a £1,500 Gucci bag really go on to sample the colourful chaos of Shepherd's Bush market?
It will also be interesting to see what impact the new development has on nearby High Street Kensington. In the last few years this has lost its major anchor store, Barkers, and some of the buses that used to come here have now been diverted to Shepherd's Bush. It already has some of the chains that are opening in Westfield, and until now has only had to compete with Hammersmith down the road - yet another area that could find itself undermined. Watch this space.
But for now, all eyes are focused on the opening event next week. The promotional video has already created waves with its images of 'human moths', shown fluttering in their thousands towards the bright, white light from that huge undulating roof. Only time will tell if a more appropriate analogy is that of moths flying too close to the flame...