Retail therapy overrules shoppers' credit crunch worries at opening of giant west London mall

All day yesterday and well into the evening, Londoners partied and indulged in credit card frenzy in the face of global financial meltdown. The occasion was the opening of the gargantuan £1.7bn Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush, which packs 280 shops and 47 restaurants, bars and food stands into 150,000m2 of floor space, making it the largest city-centre shopping mall in Europe.

The claim by the Australian retail developer, Westfield, was not lost on Londoners, who deluged the mall in tens of thousands and were spurred on to “spend, spend, spend” by their ebullient mayor, Boris Johnson, and the cream of the retail world, including Sir Philip Green of Arcadia, Sir Stuart Rose of Marks & Spencer and John King of House of Fraser.

The event was launched at 10am with a performance by X Factor winner Leona Lewis. It took place on a makeshift stage and screen set in a large central atrium, where it was overlooked by four levels of retail terraces, and its images and sounds were relayed at pumped-up volume throughout the complex.

The event was not just a media launch but a general opening to the public at large, who vastly outnumbered the army of consumer journalists and their photographers. The total number of visitors yesterday was 160,000, including 500 journalists and photographers - a figure that easily exceeded the average 60,000 visitors a day expected by Westfield.

An infectious buzz was generated by the non-stop throngs of punters, many of whom wore euphoric smiles as if to say, “Recession? What recession?” In abundance were that distinct “Look at me” breed of glitzily dressed, coiffed and buffed shopaholics that perennially inhabit shopping centres.

Once the opening euphoria evaporates and world recession tightens its grip, will Westfield London attain the 21 million visits a year that its developer is banking on? That will partly depend on the continuing munificence of Londoners' credit cards and the number of retailers who can fend off liquidation.

As for public access to the mall, that is more dependable, as it is well served by two tube lines, a bus station and an overground railway station, and even 570 secure cycle parking spaces.

Even the architectural style of the complex may play its part in attracting the punters. While there's no overall brand style that shines through the complex, the double-decker malls are wide enough to let individual shop fronts blaze forth in a competing frenzy of lights, colours, style gimmicks and logos. That is the excitement of the spanking new Westfield London.

In terms of urban regeneration, will it have any different effect from last decade's out-of-town shopping centres, such as Bluewater and Lakeside? For the answer to that, watch out for what could be a boom in charity and second-hand shops in the surrounding neighbourhoods of Shepherd's Bush.