Media attention has focused on whether shopping centres such as Westfield London can survive the oncoming recession.
But the economic crisis throws into question not only the future of the giant shopping malls, but the whole basis of the government’s favoured model of regeneration through retail.
Westfield promotes itself not just as the world’s largest listed retail property group (with 119 malls worldwide) – but as the “UK’s biggest regeneration developer”.
Both Labour and the Tories have embraced the vision of regenerating cities through attracting retail.
In recent months, sizeable shopping centres have opened in Bristol, Liverpool and Leicester – all heralded as bringing new prosperity and jobs.
Westfield’s future UK plans include a development in Bradford which will include upmarket city centre flats as well as 100 high street shops.
In Stratford, east London, residents will be the recipients of two key prongs of government-endorsed regeneration – sports and shopping.
Westfield is working on Stratford City – a £1.5 billion “retail and leisure development” next to the site of the 2012 Olympic games.
Gordon Brown says he welcomes the scheme “bringing billions of pounds of private investment into one of the most disadvantaged parts of the UK”.
The mantra of both Labour and the Tories has been that growth is fuelled by private finance.
But now the economic crash and the visible collapse of the idea of the free market is an opportunity to demand much more than retail monoliths for the future of our cities.