Credit Crunch report: The vast car parks are fairly full, but you'd easily find a space. Queues of traffic stretch back along winding feeder roads to the NorthCircular, but at least they're moving. Would-be shoppers dribble off the double deckers in the featureless bus station, but not in large numbers. Hold open the door to the mall and there's still plenty of room inside. It's nearly nearly-Christmas, but you wouldn't guess. It's Brent Cross, it's the UK's first large enclosed shopping centre, and it's about to face its third recession.
Even in these tough financial times, the mall experience remains an attractive family day out, but now with the emphasis on window shopping. There's a dress you can't afford, and there's a pair of shoes that mustn't go on your credit card. Those chocolates look gorgeous but unnecessary, and no way am I paying four quid for a bagel. Nobody buys Swarovski crystals at a time like this, although a spin round Claire's Accessories shouldn't break the bank. Don't worry about buying some trifling luxury for the kid, because Junior will be pleased enough with a free balloon from McDonalds. Maybe a long walk round the Fenwick department store will pass the time, and then the same round John Lewis. Look, they're doing a meal for two for a tenner in M&S, bargain, and there's even fruit crumble. Best give the Apple store a miss, I think.
At the heart of the mall, beneath the central glass dome, the "My Brent Cross" promotion is underway. Some spotty youth and her lank-haired beau are perched inside a video pod waiting to talk to camera, no doubt telling the world what they so love about this place. Maybe it's the feeling of camaraderie they get from meeting up with their mates outside the Karma Kitchen. Maybe it's the opportunity to nick a pair of leggings from Miss Selfridge. Maybe this is the only decent place in the area to get away from the parents and do some pointless slouching. Or maybe it's the free central heating. Whatever the reason, this mid 70s mall experiment still has its legions of devoted fans.
But maybe not for much longer. Never mind the credit crunch, there's a new enemy lying in wait five miles down the road. If Brent Cross was London's first mid-conurbation shopping centre, then Westfield is its first all-encompassing retail megaplex. It opens on Thursday, and its extensive hinterland threatens to suck what little recessional trade exists out of existing local shopping centres. Why go to a nasty concrete box outside Hendon when you could visit a shiny glass amphitheatre near Holland Park instead? Why head for a far-flung Zone 3 stationon the hard-to-reach side of an enormous roundabout when you could arrive at the mall doors via a brand new Zone 2 interchange. Why do H Samuel when you could do Tiffany? There are a lot of nervous retail managers across West London at the moment, all hoping that this weekend isn't the last time their shops ever see normal levels of trade. It's shops in W12 which have the most to fear, obviously, but I'm certain Brent has its fingers firmlyCrossed.