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London 2012: Westfield Stratford shopping centre to close this weekend

Category : Business

Organisers to shut retail centre to manage larger crowds attending events at Olympic Park as athletics begins

The Westfield Stratford shopping centre will be closed to the general public on Friday and Saturday in order to manage crowds of 200,000 streaming to the Olympic Park, London 2012 organisers have announced.

The cavernous shopping centre adjacent to the Olympic Park will only be accessible to ticket holders and accredited officials, media and athletes.

The majority of spectators have been passing through the shopping centre in order to reach their events, with many hanging around to eat and drink. But while footfall is believed to be significantly up on average, it is understood that takings among retailers are significantly down. Although spectators are milling around in the centre, fewer are shopping.

The closure of the centre to the general public is likely to exacerbate the problem for retailers on the site. However, Westfield Stratford is faring considerably better than many retailers in central London, which have seen takings decline as crowds have stayed away due to warnings over transport and congestion.

Having promised a party atmosphere across the city, organisers now face the difficult challenge of honing the message to persuade visitors to come into central London, while continuing to manage transport issues.

The Olympic organising committee (Locog) said it had always been “part of the plan” to close the shopping centre. But asked why the decision had not been communicated earlier, a spokeswoman said it had wanted to monitor crowd behaviour first.

Around 200,000 fans are expected on the Park on Friday and Saturday, with the athletics events in the main 80,000 capacity stadium beginning.

This week, attendances at the Park have averaged around 80,000-90,000. No general access Park tickets were made available for the second week due to overcrowding concerns.

Managing the volume of spectators over the weekend will be a key challenge for Locog, particularly on the bridge that connects the main transport hub at Stratford to the shopping centre.

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