In 2008, the Westfield Group opened its first UK shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush. Just three years later, Stratford followed, emerging as one of the major shopping units in Europe.

With 500 shopping centres throughout the UK, Brits really are a nation of shoppers. Westfield shopping centre makes a whopping £386.3million in annual revenue. The Hammerson Group, who own nine major shopping centres, makes £320.9million in revenue and Intu, another large group in the UK, takes in an estimated £600million.

The benefits to the economy and local area are substantial. The retail sector brought in £340 billion in retail sales (5.7% generated of total GDP) and the sector is making huge year-on-year growth.

Brent Cross shopping centre, built as the first major shopping centre in the UK, is about to undergo a £4.5 billion refurbishment which will result in 200 new retail brands, 40 restaurants, a cinema complex, a hotel, a town square and several new homes. Shopping centres are no longer being built as shopping centres but as urban quarters, with everything you need in one place.

The top 10 shopping centres by area (metres 2) and their corresponding annual visitors are listed below:

But with all these new shopping centres and their impending regeneration, just what advantages and disadvantages are there to the local area? Keep reading to find out...

Job creation

The retail sector is the largest private employer in the UK, with 3 million employees. Westfield opened 5,000 construction jobs, and 10,000 positions in retail. 20% of the retail jobs went to people under 25, and 80% were citizens from the local area.

Attracts new business

The footfall of visitors causes a snowball effect in terms of business, attracting new businesses to the area. Entertainment (including leisure centres and cinema complexes) and hospitality services (such as cafes and restaurants) commonly follow.

David Fischel, CEO of Intu, comments: "Shopping centres aren't just shopping centres any more - they're all-singing, all-dancing destinations which provide a whole day's experience. They contain food courts, restaurants, entertainment and activities - even ski slopes and ice rinks. You have to keep people entertained and the atmosphere makes all the difference. Additionally, shopping hours have changed and consumers act differently."

Credit: Shutterstock/ Padmayogini

Governmental benefits

Shopping centres bring economic benefit to the local government. Hammerson shopping centres bring in £50.8million in income tax from employment, as well as £40.5million in national insurance contributions and £96.4billion in business rates.

Higher numbers of employment means the government spends less on unemployment benefits. The more people employed also results in a reduction in overall crime, so money spent by the government on crime reduction strategies can be concentrated on tackling retail crime.

Area regeneration

Westfield saw a 12.8% increase in property prices in Hammersmith and Fulham, leading the phenomenon to be named the 'Westfield Effect'. This is positive for locals who will get more for their property but the sudden drive in prices makes the area unaffordable for many potential buyers.

Impact on small businesses

However, the opening of shopping centres is not positive for all businesses. Some small businesses reported a 90% drop in sales after Westfield was built, unable to compete with the larger retailers.

We spoke to a local Stratford resident.

Kamal, 46, Stratford citizen: "I have a small business which I have run for the last 15 years. Since the shopping centre has come, footfall for small independent outlets has decreased significantly as the large brands are able to offer lower prices and promotions. It's affecting hard-working local people and I fear over time, the high street will become a ghost town with independent outlets disappearing altogether."

Credit: Shutterstock/ Michael Puche

Waste

Shopping centres create 12 million tonnes of waste each year, including food waste, packaging waste and general waste. Energy is also wasted through heating loss where doors are left open, non-LED lighting on unnecessarily bright levels during the day and staying on through the night.

Shopping centres must implement wide-scale waste saving strategies to reduce the amount of waste they create. The majority have placed recycling bins in food courts of their centres.

Westfield started the Green Academy Initiative, built around behavioural changes. This initiative reduced landfill waste from 80% to 20%.

Pollution

Major shopping centres bring in 29,000 extra cars every day. This causes more traffic and an increase in emissions from vehicles in the local area.

The construction of such large centres causes a visual intrusion and the resulting noise pollution is also unpleasant to local residents.

Credit: Shutterstock/ predrag Sepelj

It has become clear that shopping centres bring in all-important revenue to the British economy. As huge centres that take up space and attract droves of people into an area, they have negatives as well as positives, particularly for local people. Areas must weigh up the potential benefits with the negatives when granting planning permission. All in all, the retail sector has no indication of slowing down any time soon, so shopping centres will continue to ride the wave and reap the benefits.