Shoppers returning to Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush will be watched closely to make sure they keep their distance

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

Bosses at Europe’s largest shopping centre have unveiled their plans to reopen shops in the centre next month.

As the lockdown gradually eases, stores will be able to reopen on June 15 – but people won’t be able to try on clothes before they buy.

Some 20,000 people normally work at Westfield London after a 740,000 sq ft expansion in 2018 boosted the number of workers by 8,000.

The centre is close to Shepherd’s Bush Underground station on the Central line, whilst the London Overground normally links shoppers from South London as well as East London.

Currently people are being asked to avoid public transport unless their journeys are essential.

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, the company which runs the 2.6m sq ft  five storey shopping centre said it has “robust plans” to reopen the centre with a phased return to work. It said it will follow government guidance to “ensure a safe and welcoming environment for retailers, shoppers and employees to return to”.

During lockdown food stores Waitrose, M&S  and Boots pharmacy as well as WHSmith  stayed open to help people get access to essential supplies.

Scott Parsons, the  company’s regional managing director  for the UK and Italy said: “I can confidently say that our robust plans not only meet all requirements outlined in the government guidelines but go above and beyond.”

And he said the sheer size of the shopping centre “puts us in a unique position where we can very safely manage the customer journey throughout the malls.

“As well as heightened hygiene measures across every touch point, we have technology to monitor footfall and flows and ensure social distancing is practised, as well as the benefit of onsite security and guest services teams to carefully control the measures at all times.”

Mr Parsons said shoppers will be  “very cautious about returning to any public locations, and rightfully so – this pandemic has had a devastating effect on our communities”.

He continued: “We don’t underestimate the importance of getting these measures right, not only to ensure everyone coming into our centres is safe, but that they also feel confident that their wellbeing is genuinely being considered at every point.”

The firm has looked at the measures used by its shopping centres elsewhere in Europe as they have already started to reopen.

Measures at Westfield London in Shepherd’s Bush and at Westfield Stratford in east London include:

*Monitoring the number of people going in and out of the shopping mall to control the numbers

*Socially distanced queuing systems

*Stickers marking out social distances on the floor

* Cashless car parks

*Socially distanced parking.

* Heightened hygiene and deep cleaning of all public spaces

*Hand sanitisers throughout the mall

*Live footfall cameras

*One-way systems

*Trained security and guest services teams managing queuing systems

*Contacting stores directly to manage flows and numbers in the centre

There will also be screens inside and outside the shopping centre to display health and safety messages and “large numbers” of bike racks.

The company is calling for extra government support to help shops with  rent as well as extending the business rates holiday to vacant units, to cover shops which were empty before lockdown started in March, and those that will never reopen.

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