It’s funny working in London’s trendy west London. People bust a gut to move somewhere like Shepherd’s Bush, but invariably find that it really isn’t all that. I’ve nothing against W12, I’ve spent a great chunk of my waking hours there and I even developed a sneaking liking for Queens Park Rangers for a bit. Hey, I even remember seeing Pete Doherty saunter around in a tunic. While the Bush was once famous for Steptoe and Son, Stan Bowles and the White City dog track, it’s now stuffed full of twonks who call it “SheBu” (right – you’re banned from London for life) and grizzle like children when one of their five Tube stations closes so it can be dragged into the 21st Century.
In reality, there’s not a lot there these days. A crappy parade of pound shops and mobile phone re-chippers, some drunks, a rubbish shopping centre and some hideous traffic congestion. It’s like Plumstead but with Tube stations. Gentrification? The local Slug and Lettuce became an amusement arcade. Shepherd’s Bush Green is truly on its uppers, and it’s not a pleasant sight.
And things are about to get worse – looming over W12 is the Westfield London development, due to open on Thursday and due to suck the living daylights out of what remains of Shepherd’s Bush. How the hell a huge shopping centre in inner London, complete with its own junction on the old West Cross Route, ever got the go-ahead has got to be one of life’s mysteries. Increased traffic congestion? Check. Killing off local shops and services? Absolutely. Insane? Definitely. A recession, the threat of BBC TV Centre closing, and now this. I wouldn’t want to be running a small business in that area right now.
It’s only recently, now the hoardings have come down, that it’s become clear how profoundly this part of London will change. With such shopping luxury on offer, why would anyone want to go out in the rain and trip over drunks outside William Hill? It’s not just the Bush – Notting Hill will suffer as its well-heeled car-driving shoppers switch to Westfield to avoid the congestion charge, the border of which the new mega-mall sits just outside. Hammersmith, which has thrived as the Bush has sunk, will also take a hit. In an era when we’re supposed to be appreciating our own local communities and supporting nearby businesses, Westfield London’s going to be a huge backward step.
Here in my own part of south-east London, we can see that small businesses have been hit by the opening of retail parks in Greenwich and Charlton, which add little but traffic congestion and pollution. Now west London’s going to suffer – and it isn’t going to be pretty.