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Westfield’s plans to use the top floor of their shopping centre as a vast leisure space may have to be abandoned due to the economic downturn. 

The top floor is made up of what was originally intended to be a northern, southern and western leisure space, but at a recent Council planning meeting, Westfield were granted permission to use some of the area as office space instead.  

According to a planning committee report, Westfield have not yet been able to find a tenant for their original plans: “The (planning) applications have come about because of difficulties in finding a user for the leisure space which was intended as a health club/gymnasium,” the report explains.  

“The purpose of these three applications is to provide Westfield with flexibility in the use of this upper floorspace. The intention is still to let the whole of this floorspace to one leisure tenant but if this proves unworkable then this permission would give them flexibility to let each area separately as all one use or as a mixture of both,” the report continues.

The report says no local residents expressed any objections to the change of use: “The application was advertised in the local press and site notices were posted around the perimeter of the site. No responses have been received,” it says.

However, those living right next to Westfield say their views were never sought: “Once again, Westfield has made a joke of the Council, and ultimately the residents. Residents were not consulted about this. It's us that not only lose out because of the failure to deliver facilities which would be of benefit to the neighbourhood, but we then have to deal with the further impacts caused by more people coming to the site on a  daily basis. The very sense of neighbourhood and community that makes Shepherd’s Bush what it is is being steadily eroded,” said local resident Dominic Thomas.

 

The planning report argues that the change of use will result in fewer people coming to Shepherd’s Bush: “The change of use from leisure to business use should see a potential reduction in overall daily two-way car trips to the site. Moreover, this reduction would be at its most at weekends when a leisure use would likely be at its busiest and a business use will generate little or no trips.”

But despite the ongoing parking problems faced by nearby residents since the shopping centre opened in October, the report states that Westfield’s planning application does not include any dedicated car parking provisions for potential office workers.    

“Whilst there will be no preventative measures to prevent employees from parking in the public shoppers’ car parks, it is considered that this will be unlikely since the daily costs of parking, which is designed to deter commuter parking, would be prohibitively expensive,” the Council’s planning report states.

 

“It is considered satisfactory that no provision is made for car parking and that due to the excellent public transport access and prohibitive cost of parking on site private car trips should be minimal.”

 

Westfield say various potential uses for the top floor are being considered: “The leisure space was never intended to be opened for October 2008 and forms part of phase two of the development which is scheduled to open in late 2009. It is located above the retail floors at roof level and is sufficient to cater for a number of complimentary uses including gym, spa and office space. The recent planning permission provides maximum flexibility to accommodate the range of uses we are contemplating but we anticipate that health clubs would occupy only a relatively small part of this area,” a Westfield spokesperson said.

The 14-screen cinema is scheduled to open later this year, as planned, Westfield say.  

Yasmine Estaphanos

20 January 2009