Belfast Telegraph

Sale bodes well for centre fans...

By David Elliott

Shopping centres are something of a marmite institution among the general population.

Some people love them with a passion and can easily while away the hours browsing for nothing more than an umbrella.

Others, mostly begrudging partners, find them difficult to bear as they're trailed around shop to shop for hours on end.

I found myself in the latter category recently on a visit to Westfield's Shepherd's Bush Shopping Centre, where I had enough time to remark to myself that the Australian retail giant seems to be enjoying buoyant trade at its Northern Ireland centre.

I know that because I'd had to take refuge in a coffee shop on our last visit to Sprucefield because the hoards of shoppers were getting to my addled brain.

"Westfield won't want to sell Sprucefield," I thought.

How wrong I was.

Despite the hefty footfall at the Lisburn centre, Westfield has off-loaded Sprucefield as part of a three-centre deal which smacks of need more than want. Could it be that the retailing giant needs to leverage cash to pay for its massive investments in Stratford in east London and in the very centre I was dragged around the other week in Shepherd's Bush?

Hard to tell, but the sale of Sprucefield marks the end of the shopping centre's owners investments in Northern Ireland, having sold its share of Belfast's Castle Court recently.

But Sprucefield's in good hands with the new owners, who know a thing or two about running centres and who have already mentioned John Lewis -- another subject which tends to garner a marmite reaction...