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Column: Does the Westfield Derby shopping centre herald the shape of things to come?

This week's opening of the new Westfield Derby shopping centre drew the kind of excitement usually reserved for visiting royalty or celebrities.

The scheme, a redevelopment of the existing Eagle Centre, brought a host of new retailers including All Saints, Jack & Jones and Monsoon to the city, in a slick development of 1 million sq ft. M&S boss Stuart Rose and Debenhams chief Rob Templeman turned up to check out their new anchor stores.

The scheme is also the first to be completed with the involvement of Australian developer Westfield. Clean, bright, spacious, and with good pedestrian flows, the Derby centre offered a vision of things to come from the property group, which will aims to roll out or redevelop up to ten centres in the UK.

Although anchored by the usual suspects, the scheme also prides itself on having attracted several local independent retailers. This "indie-friendly" approach is something that developers are increasingly trying to promote. Accusations of creating clone towns and shopping centres with the same old line up has resulted in a string of attempts to add a point of difference to a scheme.

As well as Derby, Princesshay in Exeter which opened last month, Eden in High Wycombe and White City in West London, which are due to open next year, are all boasting about their boutique spaces and quirky retailers.

Certainly the indies at Derby - the likes of Ministry, Reveal and Ekko - had pulled out all the stops for their big flagship stores. Shop fits were of a standard in keeping with the impressive double height glass fascias of the big multiples. They were understandably excited about the potential of the centre and their presence definitely added welcome variety.

But the cost of these shops is likely to be high. Developers will offer all kinds of incentives, including helping with fit out costs and rent free periods. It remains to be seen how many indies are still there two or three years later.

There are concerns over too much new retail space in the development pipeline, and trade is tough. Let's hope that developers and landlords are making genuine attempts to help support local businesses, rather than just using them as temporary stopgaps.

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