Bluewater, Kent (c) Jonathan Webb

Britain from the Air - Bluewater

A consumer paradise or an environmental disaster?

Designer villages, shopping malls, metro-centres - call them what you will - out of town shopping centres have sprung up around major cities and population centres in Britain. Scotland has two, Wales four and England ten.

People’s views of them differ widely; do you consider them a consumer paradise, an efficient convenience, an environmental disaster, or an American-style threat to our city centres?

Generally they appeared after commercial developers took advantage of cheap, poor quality land.  The land often became available as large industrial or manufacturing sites closed or it was too and unsuitable for homes. When Bluewater opened in 1999 it was the largest shopping centre in Europe. Since then, its 330 stores have seen more than a quarter of a billion shopping visits. That’s nearly five times the population of the UK.

Shopping trends

In the 1960s it was rather different, with the development of new shopping precincts in town centres that attracted many chain stores. Some of these ‘new’ town centres have since been redeveloped, such as the Bullring in Birmingham. Then came the edge-of-town retail parks, ideal for bigger showrooms full of kitchens, sofas, electrical goods and carpets.

It is not surprising that some people worry about the impact of all these changes on the traditional, historic city and town centres. The best examples, such as York, thrive with boutique and specialist shops serving the whole region and a tourist market; elsewhere the situation may not be so good.

A nation of shoppers - a nation of debt

London’s Oxford Street is one of the busiest shopping destinations in the world with over 200 million visitors a year, despite the growth in Internet shopping and out of town centres. But though we are a nation of shoppers,  shopping habits are changing. 

In 2014 Britons spent over £68 billion on Internet shopping. That is equivalent to £2,180 per adult in the UK; the highest in the world. And two thirds of UK adults shop online, the highest proportion in the world. 

Add our shopping habits to mortgage debt and it’s no surprise that the UK has record levels of personal debt. This stood at an astonishing £1.46 trillion owed in November 2014.  

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Location: Bluewater shopping centre, Greenhithe, Kent, DA9 9ST
Grid reference: TQ 57949 73567

Britain from the Air - Bluewater credits

Thank you to -

Jonathan Webb for aerial photography

Text researched and written by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

Bluewater shopping centre has parking for 13,000 cars; just remember where you left it!