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PANORAMA: 1998

UK's Largest Shopping Development to Boast "Creches"
by Dennis Smith

''CRECHES'' for men may soon at shopping complexes of the future. A survey carried out for the developers of Europe's biggest retail and leisure park reported what most of us already knew: that men and women are different when it comes to shopping and joint expeditions result in a lot of stress, tension and arguments which take place during half of all outings.

For men the ideal shopping expedition lasts less than an hour while women adopt, in the words of the survey team, a more "measured approach''. But if a significant purchase is being made 60 per cent of women want feedback from the men in their lives who have become bored and wandered off at a critical time.

The solution? Build "male creches" or an "escape lane", say the developers. By this they mean they will put male-focused entertainment, including bars, computer and hobby shops within easy reach of major female stores, such as fashion shops.

A spokesman for the developers said: "By giving men ample 'breakout' opportunities we believe we can help dissipate the tension that builds up between couples. If we admit that men and women have different needs, then the 'creche' theme is an antidote for male shopping stress: a chance to relax and find something of interest before boredom sets in. We see this as the future for all major retail developments worldwide.''

The 380 million pounds sterling complex is now being fitted out in the United Kingdom ready to welcome 80,000 visitors a day when it opens next year.

Over 300 firms will take space on the site - covering 150,000 square metres of retail space - and they include companies such as Marks & Spencer, the John Lewis Partnership, Laura Ashley and the House of Fraser. For Marks & Spencer and John Lewis it will be their second biggest stores in the world - only their central London branches are larger.

Called Bluewater, it is located just south of the River Thames near the town of Dartford in north-west Kent. It is scheduled to open in March 1999 and more than 75 per cent of the retail area has already been let.

It has been calculated that 10 million people in the UK - nearly 20 per cent of the population - live within an hour's drive of the centre and their expenditure on items other than food is estimated at over five billion pounds sterling.

Retailers can also expect a large influx of customers from nearby European countries, particularly France and Belgium, with fast rail links to the UK. The scale of the project demands large leisure and recreational facilities and nearly 15,000 square metres have been set aside for these purposes.

A spokeswoman for the project said: "The designers rejected the idea of featureless and lifeless shopping malls, in favour of building the shops around 'village' themes with entertainment, recreation and restaurant facilities. The complex will also have its own festivals at regular intervals.''

One 'village' is laid out as a market hall, adjoining a piazza with restaurants and bars. It will also incorporate speciality shops and a health club. Another, majoring on educational outlets, music and youth fashion, has a multiplex cinema. There are also areas for fashion shows, exhibitions and concerts. Another zone provides facilities for family groups, incorporating playgrounds and creches - this time for children.

A wide variety of cafes and restaurants in the 'villages' can accommodate 5,000 people. The immediate environment is unusual with 50-metre high, chalk cliffs surrounding the site.

Beyond the malls and villages there is access to picnic areas and footpaths that lead through nearly 10 hectares of parkland and around seven lakes - covering five hectares - where there are facilities for boating and fishing. This area will be also be developed for major sporting and recreational facilities.

With 30 million shoppers expected annually, the complex will incorporate a multitude of safety features including specially designed light fittings to provide uniform light and eliminate dark spots in carparks.

Even the planting of the site's one million trees and shrubs is under assessment to ensure that visitors can 'see and be seen' at all times. The development is near motorways and the developers have spent 30 million pounds sterling on new roads and infrastructure, and a new rail connection will provide a journey time to central London of less than 20 minutes.

It will have the largest car park in the UK with spaces for over 13,000 vehicles. The complex is located on the site of an old quarry in an area known as the Thames Gateway, which has Government support for substantial development and economic regeneration. Housing, hotels, schools, hospitals and supporting infrastructure are in the pipeline.

The social and economic implications of the development are significant for the community. Employment and training initiatives are being carried out on-site and one of them is specifically designed to enable young people, particularly the unemployed, achieve vocational qualifications and a successful career.

An on-site job centre has already succeeded in placing 1,500 people in work, many of whom were long term unemployed. When the development is complete 6,800 people will work there.

The name behind Bluewater is Lend Lease, an international development corporation which will manage all aspects of the site, from design to construction and leasing. It is responsible for more than 2.5 million square metres of retail space around the world.

Its spokesman said: "We have every confidence in the continuing strength of the UK economy and we are looking to the long-term future. To provide spiritual support and solace for shoppers there will even be a chaplain.''

Lend Lease Projects Ltd
York House
23 Kingsway, London, United Kingdom, WC2B 6UJ
Telephone: +44 171 379 0222
Fax: +44 171 379 0213