Purpose-built enclosed shopping centres became a major feature of London's landscape in the second half of the 20th century. The shopping centre story began in the 1950s when town planners rejected traditional street layouts in favour of shopping precincts. Compact and traffic-free, these were designed for the shopper on foot. Early shopping centres were essentially roofed-over precincts, and London's first opened in 1965 at Elephant & Castle, part of a scheme to make the area the 'Piccadilly of the South'.
A second type of shopping centre arrived in 1976. Brent Cross in north London typified a new generation of American-style regional shopping malls, built on the fringes of town and designed for car owners.
During the 1980s and 90s, a third type of shopping centre appeared in London's high streets. Hailed by local councils as catalysts of town centre regeneration, these local centres aimed to be places for community life and leisure, as well as places to shop.
The fourth type of shopping centre is the out-of-town mega-centre. At the end of the 20th century, the London region was home to two of Britain's largest examples: Lakeside near Thurrock, opened in 1990, and Bluewater beyond Dartford, opened in 1999.
London's Shopping Centre Timeline
- 1951London's first shopping precinct opens in the Lansbury Estate, east London, a Festival of Britain showcase of the ideal future for urban neighbourhoods.
- 1965London's first enclosed shopping centre is completed at the Elephant and Castle.
- 1969 The Whitgift Centre, Croydon, begins life as a pedestrianised precinct. By the end of the 20th century, it covered 116,125 square metres (1.25 million square feet) of retail space.
- 1971 Wandsworth's Arndale centre opens, a mixed retail and residential development.
- Other 1970s shopping centre developments include the Stratford Centre in East London (1973), The Lewisham Centre, South London (1975), Kings Mall, Hammersmith (1979), and Eden Walk, Kingston (1979).
- 1976Britain's first American-style mall opens at Brent Cross, north London with 74,320 square metres (800,000 square feet) of retail space.
- 1981The Queen opens Shopping City at Wood Green. Other 1980s shopping centres include Broadway Shopping Centre, Bexley Heath (1983), Ealing Broadway (1985), Treaty Centre, Hounslow (1987), and Dalston Cross, Hackney (1989).
- 1989Whiteley's department store in Bayswater is transformed into a shopping centre. Other old department store buildings follow the same pattern, including Barkers in Kensington and the Plaza in Oxford Street.
- 1990 Lakeside at Thurrock opens: the region's first shopping centre to reach 92,900 square metres (1 million square feet) of retail space.
- 1999 Bluewater, the region's biggest shopping centre, opens off the M25 in Kent. Its 148,640 square metres (1.6 million square feet) of retail space boast 320 shops.
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