David Mann tells a tale of two shopping malls, one in the friendly North, the other in the grim South

David Mann
David Mann

As a building surveyor, I’m fortunate to get involved with every imaginable type of building. One that I’m particularly passionate about is the shopping centre. It seems to have a life of its own. It attracts the best and the worst parts of social behaviour and can completely regenerate an area or lead to its decline. I’m amazed nobody has based a television soap or a reality programme around one yet.

My candidate for a wonder would have once been an excellent candidate for a blunder: the Manchester Arndale Centre was often compared to a public toilet thanks to its ceramic cladding. After the IRA bomb and Prudential's subsequent refurbishment, I think it fits within its environment and links shoppers with the vibrant city centre.

My blunder is the Westfield Centre in White City. It sits oddly within its surroundings and I cannot see it adding anything to the local community other than congestion and the decline of local businesses. It seems to turn its back on its surroundings, almost ashamed of its less glamorous neighbours.

I question the rationale of building it at all. I love the West End and long for it to be returned to a shopping street that Londoners are proud of and want to visit. Equally, its destination as a tourist attraction should be equivalent to 5th Avenue in New York or any of the great European city shopping boulevards. I fear Westfield will only delay the much-needed renaissance of Oxford Street.