Page last updated at 04:03 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Traffic arguments as Westfield opens

By Debabani Majumdar
BBC News, London

Westfield shopping centre
Westfield is said to be one of the largest shopping centres in Europe

It is not often that a journalist gets to literally chase an MP.

Mid-way through my initial conversation with Andrew Slaughter, MP for Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush, he turned and broke into a run, with no obvious explanation.

Mr Slaughter had spotted a traffic warden surveying his car which he had parked on a double yellow line after a fruitless search for a parking space near Shepherds Bush tube station.

Reaching his car as the warden approached, I joined Mr Slaughter in his quest for a space for another 20 minutes.

Residents and businesses in the area said they face the same predicament every day as scarce parking and traffic jams have become a regular feature since construction began of the Westfield shopping centre.

It's not all about Westfield, it's about residents
Jamie Bishop, shop owner

The 1.7bn shoppers' mecca, one of the biggest in Europe, aims to attract 60,000 visitors per day with its 265 shops, 50 restaurants and a multiplex cinema.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council said it had "negotiated a series of major community benefits out of Westfield" which included 200m spent on new Tube, train and bus stations.

Shepherds Bush Green will also get a 3m revamp and another 4m will be spent on providing 24-hour policing, a new library and 78 affordable homes.

Most local businesses are optimistic and hope the millions flocking to Westfield will also benefit the diverse and multi-ethnic high street.

But traffic woes feature high in their concerns as there are only 4,500 parking spaces in the centre.

Traffic in Shepherds Bush
Roadworks have led to traffic jams and scarce parking

Jamie Bishop, 35, owner of Jumbucks Pie Shop, said: "I think parking is an issue anyway and if there is not enough in the Westfield complex there has to be something so that those cars don't come to the local area.

"It's not all about Westfield, it's about residents."

Mr Slaughter agreed saying: "Very few people are against the regeneration. You are looking at a site which has not been properly used since the 1908 Olympics."

He accused Transport for London (TfL) of being "supine", adding: "The council has done absolutely nothing to look at either the parking or the congestion after Westfield opens."

He also criticised the council's plan to review the traffic situation in March, saying: "I can tell them now in advance, there is no parking space on the streets for residents and there is already often gridlock around Shepherds Bush Green and surrounding roads."

'Pathetic' jobs target

Westfield said it has contributed 170m towards overhauling public transport so that 60% of its visitors use it.

The council said the improvements will help Shepherds Bush "realise its full potential" but said TfL needed "to do more".

"TfL's own research proves Hammersmith and Fulham already has the most clogged-up streets in London with a staggering 7.6 million hours lost in traffic every year," a spokesman said.

"The council leader has warned that without urgent action on issues like the phasing of traffic lights and better north-south routes, drivers will be left further behind."

Artist's impression of Shepherds Bush Green
The council is investing 3m to revamp Shepherds Bush Green

TfL said its arrangements were "robust" and added that it "will continue to investigate the best ways of alleviating congestion".

But it highlighted that congestion due to "road works on Wood Lane do not relate to TfL".

Apart from traffic issues, Labour MP Mr Slaughter accused the Tory council of "excluding" the local community and said the council target of securing up to 1,000 of the 7,000 future jobs at the centre for the area was "pathetic".

"This is an area with high unemployment and stubborn unemployment. The council have done nothing about it."

But the council said it was "on target" and added: "Out of 1,300 jobs reported to date, 268 have gone to our residents, which is actually one in five."

'Buy-to-let interest'

The building work at the shopping centre and Shepherds Bush Station for the past year has also angered a number of residents.

Hope James, 72, a retired interior designer, lives in a listed Georgian terraced cottage behind the station and the shopping centre looms over her road.

"It's actually a contrast to a Georgian street, it is something very modern.

"It was an assurance that we would have the acoustic protection, at least the council committed to it. This has not happened."

Hope James outside her house
Ms James said she will seek a reduction in council tax

Ms James said she and other residents were thinking of seeking compensation and asking for a reduction in their council tax.

"We feel powerless," she said.

The council said it had done all it could "to limit the noise and disruption".

Despite concerns about the impact of the development on properties values, local estate agents said there had been a lot of interest in buy-to-let investments in the area since the summer.

One agency said an image boost for "the historically fairly run-down area" had been a long time coming and the shopping centre and transport links "gentrified" it.

Print Sponsor

Enormous shopping complex opens
30 Oct 08 |  London
Westfield Shopping Centre
23 Oct 08 |  Politics Show

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