Merry Hill Shopping Centre

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Merry Hill
Location

Brierley Hill, Dudley, West Midlands, DY5 1QX,

England
Coordinates 52°28′53.4″N 2°6′39.4″W / 52.481500°N 2.110944°W / 52.481500; -2.110944Coordinates: 52°28′53.4″N 2°6′39.4″W / 52.481500°N 2.110944°W / 52.481500; -2.110944
Opening date 1985
Developer Richardson Developments
Management Julian Wilkinson (Intu)
Owner

Jointly Owned:

  • Intu Properties (50%)
  • QIC (50%)
No. of stores and services 210[1]
No. of anchor tenants 7 (Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Primark, Asda, Sainsburys, Next & BHS)[2]
Total retail floor area 154,002m² (1.593m ft²)
No. of floors 2 (Some shops have extra floors)
Website uk.westfield.com/merryhill/

Merry Hill (branded as Intu Merry Hill) is a shopping centre in Brierley Hill near Dudley, West Midlands, England. It was developed between 1985 and 1990, with several expansion and renovation projects taking place since. The original developers and owners were Richardson Developments but the Centre has had a number of other owners including Chelsfield and Mountleigh. The current owners are Intu and QIC.[3] It was built by Tarmac Construction.

Merry Hill is home to over 250 Shops, Retail Park, Cinema and an Eat Central food hall including Pizza Express & Nandos with ten thousand car parking spaces. Adjacent to the main shopping site is The Waterfront, which accommodates offices for HM Revenue and Customs amongst others, and has a marina area providing space for a number of bars and restaurants.

The Dudley No.1 Canal passes though the adjacent Waterfront site and high above the edge of the shopping centre, before descending Delph Locks.

History[edit]

Construction[edit]

In the 1980s,the Government created a number of Enterprise Zones which gave incentives to firms wishing to set up business in areas which had been affected by a downturn in the manufacturing industry. The Brierley Hill area had suffered the loss of the Round Oak Steelworks, and it was hoped that other manufacturers could be encouraged to move into the area. Incentives included relaxed planning rules and a ten-year period exempt from business rates. Developers saw the opportunity to take advantage of lack of restrictions by making a shopping centre, rather than industrial units originally envisaged as the mainstay of the Enterprise Zone.

The Enterprise Zone encompassed both the former steelworks site and a large open green space known as Merry Hill Farm. This was cherished locally as a haven for wildlife. During 1982, the site was bought by Richardson Developments with the intention of constructing a large shopping centre. December 1982 saw the closure of the Round Oak Steelworks after 125 years.

There was much hostility when building of the first phase of the shopping centre commenced on the green space, rather than on the former steelworks site, which itself was incorporated into the enterprise zone in 1984 - the year that the first phase of the complex - two retail parks and a shopping mall - was given the go-ahead on 2 October 1984, with construction beginning that winter.[4]

Despite protests from local citizens, the project went ahead and by Christmas 1985 the first three stores - Harris Queensway furniture store, MFI home furnishings retail warehouse (the complex's very first tenant) and Atlantis Electrical superstore - were trading from the site.

In November of that year, the Richardson twins announced plans to expand Merry Hill into a large indoor shopping centre to rival the recently completed developments at Telford in Shropshire and Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, with a view to completing the development by 1990. The construction contract for the shopping malls was let to Tarmac Construction.[5]

The first shopping mall and a second phase of the retail park (including Halfords and B&Q) opened in April 1986 (incorporating the Carrefour hypermarket which opened on 1 July that year). However, Carrefour had pulled out of the store within two years and it was taken over by Gateway Foodmarkets, whose tenure of the store was similarly short; by 1990 they had withdrawn from the store and it was taken over by Asda, who have held the store's tenancy ever since.

The shopping mall was extended during 1987 on the ground floor and the upper level shops opened in early 1988. A 10-screen cinema was opened in November 1988.

The 350-seat Jules Verne food court, which offered a round the world eating experience and had a large globe-shaped balloon as its centerpiece, was opened in June 1989 on the upper level shopping mall. However, it had closed by the mid-1990s due to disappointing trade. It was redeveloped with shops.[6]

Construction of the final phase of the centre was finished in 1989, with the J Sainsbury supermarket opened in September and the remainder of the final phase of the complex opening on 14 November, incorporating multiple Debenhams and British Home Stores as some of the last big retail names to move to stores within the complex.

In August 1989, Marks and Spencer had agreed to become tenants of a new department store in the final phase of the shopping complex. It opened on 23 October 1990, replacing the recently closed stores in nearby towns West Bromwich and Dudley; the retailer had hoped that its Merry Hill store could co-exist with the West Bromwich and Dudley stores, but the onset of the recession and a general downturn in trade in these towns led to the closure of both stores on 25 August 1990.[4]

On 24 December 1990,[7] the shopping centre was sold to Mountleigh.

Development of the steelworks site did not commence until the autumn 1989, when construction began on The Waterfront development, which consisted of Phases 6-8. Phase 6 saw the construction of 69,700 square metres (750,245 sq ft) of offices (the first of which were occupied in December 1990), Phase 7 saw the construction of 6,500 square metres (69,965 sq ft) of restaurants and bars and Phase 8 saw the addition of a 15,800 square metres (170,070 sq ft) business park, which was completed in 1995. Waterfront Way was opened in early December 1990 to serve the new complex and provide a road link to the shopping centre and also to the main A461 road.

The Waterfront development created some 4,000 jobs, but the onset of the recession in 2008 saw many businesses vacate the development, leaving a high percentage of office units empty. In June 2011, in a bid to bring jobs back to the Waterfront, the area was among the candidates for enterprise zone status once again - 17 years after the original enterprise zone expired.[8]

Phase 4 was partly remodelled in early 1996, a mere seven years after it had been built.[4]

Road access to the complex was improved in 1998 with the completion of alterations to the two access points from the A4036 main road between Dudley and Pedmore - this resulted in more than 40 houses being demolished to make way for the widened road and re-designed Quarry Bank junction. This project had first been proposed in 1989, and caused much controversy among residents whose houses were ultimately demolished to make way for the improvements.

Merry Hill had brought about the first free-standing Pizza Hut in the UK, the first drive-in McDonald's restaurant and the largest Texas Homecare store - all opened during 1986.[9]

While the centre was still being developed in the late 1980s, plans were unveiled to build the world's tallest tower at Merry Hill. The tower would have been 2,000 feet tall, with a hotel at its base, a restaurant halfway up and a nightclub plus observatory at the top. However, plans to build it were scrapped in 1992.[7]

Effect on surrounding towns[edit]

When the Merry Hill Centre opened, a number of large retail chains decided to move their stores from surrounding towns into the new shopping centre. These included Marks & Spencer, C&A (C&A closed in early 2001 and the store is now occupied by H&M) and Littlewoods. These left a number of large empty premises behind, which in turn meant many shoppers abandoned town centres for the Merry Hill Centre, which led to a large downturn in trade for those shops remaining, affecting their viability.

The first retailer to move to Merry Hill was furniture retailer MFI, who opened a retail warehousing unit during 1985. MFI would trade from this unit for 23 years until they went into liquidation in December 2008, with the store later being purchased and refurbished by electrical retailer BestBuy, who opened their store in May 2010.

By Christmas 1985, MFI had been joined by Queensway furniture store and electrical retailer Atlantis. Further retail warehousing units and a shopping mall were already under construction by this stage.

By the summer of 1986, two retail parks existed at the site, incorporating retailers including B&Q, Halfords and Texas Homecare.

The first shopping mall opened in April 1986, with French hypermarket giant Carrefour opening a store in the mall on 1 July that year. They sold the store to Gateway Foodmarkets two years later when withdrawing from Britain, and by 1990 it had been taken over by Asda, who already had a store in Brierley Hill as well as several others in the wider Black Country area, but surprisingly, the Brierley Hill store remained open.

A second shopping mall opened on the ground level in 1987 and the centre was expanded further in early 1988 to include an upper level, although the bulk of the centre was opened on 14 November 1989 - by which time it was the largest shopping centre in Europe. By the time of its completion, Merry Hill included several multiple stores including clothing retailers C&A and Littlewoods, general department store British Home Stores and supermarket chain J Sainsbury, as well as numerous smaller retailers.

On 23 October 1990, Marks & Spencer opened a new department store at Merry Hill (the final new store to open at the complex), replacing the recently closed stores in nearbyDudley and West Bromwich. The retailer had agreed to become tenants of a store at Merry Hill during the summer of 1989, but had hoped to keep its Dudley and West Bromwich stores open alongside it; however the declining trade in both of these towns led to both stores being closed in 25 August 1990, some two months before the Merry Hill store opened. A similar situation had arisen with British Home Stores, who had opened a store in the final phase of the complex in November 1989, but continued to trade from its Dudley store; however the opening of the Merry Hill store was followed by a sharp decline in trade from the Dudley store, and the decision to close this store had been taken by March 1990, with the store finally closing June of that year.

12 months after its opening, the Marks & Spencer store expanded on the ground level into a neighbouring unit.

In the late 1990s, Marks & Spencer took over the lease of the former Littlewoods store and converted into a furniture and menswear store. The Littlewoods store had expanded some years earlier, taking in a former Woolworths store on the upper level; there had been fears that Woolworths would close at least some of their branches in nearby towns when the Merry Hill store opened, but trade from the Woolworths at Merry Hill was relatively disappointing and ironically the local Woolworths stores all outlasted the Merry Hill store by well over a decade, only closing when the retailer went into liquidation over the 2008/09 winter.

The completion of Merry Hill resulted in the loss of many big name retailers from nearby town centres, with Dudley arguably being the hardest hit, suffering a 70% decline in retailing market share following Merry Hill's opening.[10] However, some retailers kept their stores in nearby towns open, despite opening new stores at Merry Hill. WH Smith, who have been at Merry Hill since 1989, still have a store in Halesowen, and even opened a new store in Stourbridge during the 1990s. The Dudley store also remained open, but is due to close in 2013.[11] C&A, who had a store at Merry Hill from November 1989 until withdrawing from Britain in 2001, kept their Dudley store open until January 1992. Littlewoods kept their Dudley store open for two months after its Merry Hill replacement opened in November 1989, cashing in on the 1989 Christmas sales before closing in January 1990. British Home Stores had intended to continue trading from their Dudley store, but a sharp fall in trade following the Merry Hill store's opening led to the decision to close the Dudley store, with it closing in June 1990.

A further blow came when the local council, Dudley Metropolitan Borough, announced that it was bringing in parking charges throughout its area; this turned more shoppers away from local town centres, and towards the Merry Hill Centre, where parking remains free. Though there have been plans for introducing parking charges at the centre, this has been criticized, ironically, due to fears of impacting trade.[12]

After more than 20 years, local town centres have still not been able to compete with the centre, and have become increasingly run-down. The re-designation of the Merry Hill Centre, along with nearby Brierley Hill, as the 'strategic town centre' of the Dudley Borough, and thus the focus of future local government investment,[13] has been yet another blow for the local area. Dudley in particular is now considered to have more empty shop units than any other town of its size, with nearly a third of all its shop units lying vacant as of 2012.[14]

The Merry Hill Centre continues to draw most of its trade from the local area. The developers did plan that the centre would attract visitors from across the country, by building coach parks; however these were redeveloped with private housing and flats in 2003.

Monorail[edit]

Merry Hill Monorail
(1991-1996)
Round Oak(South Staffordshire Line) - Proposed Metro link
Waterfront West(planned extension)
Dudley Canal N° 1.
Waterfront East
Maintenance Depot
Grand Central
Times Square(for Merry Hill Bus Station)
Boulevard

An elevated monorail was opened at Merry Hill on June 1991, but this closed in 1996 as a result of a combination of technical problems and safety concerns (especially the difficulty of evacuation), exacerbated by a dispute between the owners of Merry Hill and The Waterfront which at this time were owned separately. The infrastructure was later removed, leaving only one disused monorail station and part of the old railings visible—on top of the Marks and Spencer store roof.

The monorail cost £22 million to build, the construction work taking place along with the final phase of the shopping complex in 1988/89, but due to health and safety concerns it did not open until 19 months after the centre was complete.

There were to be five stations, with the system extending over the canal and terminating close to the site of the former Round Oak railway station: Where an interchange with a Midland Metro extension was proposed. However, only the first four stations were completed.

The system was officially opened on 1 June 1991. The actual public opening was delayed while Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate investigated evacuation procedures. After operating for a short while, the monorail was temporarily closed again in 1992,[15] but ran sporadically until 1996.[16]

After the system was put up for sale in 1996,[15] the trains and track were transferred in 2001 to the Oasis Shopping Centre, in Broadbeach, Queensland, Australia, to enable expansion of its own monorail system.

At the end of Monorail service, a "Monorail Replacement Bus" service operated between the UCI Cinema and The Waterfront car parks. This service utilised 2 Travel Merry Hill owned MCW Metrobuses.

Main centre[edit]

The centre has around 210 stores and over 10,000 free car parking spaces,[1] with a total retail floorspace of 154,002m² (1.593m ft²),[17] making the centre the fifth largest in the United Kingdom, behind the MetroCentre, Bluewater, Trafford Centre and Westfield Stratford City.[citation needed]

Merry Hill is home to anchor stores Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Primark and Bhs and supermarkets Asda and Sainsbury's.

Eat central[edit]

Eat Central opened in 2009 with sixteen food court units, three restaurant units and toilet area. It is located at the heart of the centre. It faces a new centre entrance and car park which has themed with street side dining and landscaping.

Retail park[edit]

There is a retail park outside the centre of Merry Hill which has a number of shops and restaurants and also a cinema.[citation needed]

Odeon Cinema, Westfield Merry Hill

Cinema[edit]

There is a ten screen Odeon Cinema situated in the retail park. It was the first multiplex cinema in the Dudley borough and the first new one to have been built for some fifty years. It was originally owned by UCI Cinemas and was refurbished in 2005 following a merger with Odeon Cinemas chain.[citation needed]

The Quest[edit]

The Quest leisure complex has been developed by Paragon Entertainment near to Debenhams. The area includes Quest for Adventure Extreme the UK's highest indoor rope course and Quest for Christmas temporary ice rink. Areas to be completed are the world’s first ever Nerf Gallery & Arena, Quest for Golf indoor adventure golf course, Quest for Adventure smaller rope course, with birthday party rooms and café.[18]

Recent developments[edit]

The owners and local council leaders have stated their aim to better connect and integrate Merry Hill with the traditional town centre of Brierley Hill. The Dudley Canal was re-routed in the late 1990s, and between 2002 and 2005 housing has been developed around the complex (several apartment blocks opposite the cinema as well as apartments and houses overlooking Pedmore Road). A new line of the Midland Metro tram system was scheduled to reach the site in 2011 but has been delayed indefinitely.

Transport[edit]

Bus station[edit]

A bus station has served Merry Hill since its opening, but the current, more substantial bus station was developed in the early 1990s and gives direct connections to towns including Dudley, Halesowen, Stourbridge, West Bromwich and Cradley Heath as well as the cities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

Similarly, the bus services connect the centre to Cradley Heath Interchange-Rail Station, for local services to Birmingham Snow Hill, Kidderminster and Worcester via Stourbridge Junction.

Various distance bus services operate from Merry Hill. Operated by National Express West Midlands, Diamond Bus, Hansons and Arriva Midlands.

Future development[edit]

As part of Dudley's Unitary Development Plan Process, Merry Hill along with the Waterfront and Brierley Hill will be integrated to form the enlarged town centre of Brierley Hill. Westfield, the owners of Merry Hill, is working closely with Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council to assist with this project.

The integration programme is part of a major urban regeneration project and will see the creation of a new mixed usage town centre through the physical and social integration of the areas.

Events[edit]

Celebrity visits[edit]

In culture[edit]

Working at Merry Hill gave Catherine O'Flynn the inspiration for the fictional Green Oaks centre, the main location in her successful novel What Was Lost,[20][21]

The Centre made a brief appearance on the Children's TV Show Rosie and Jim showing the large Sainsburys store and the center also appeared in Season 7 Episode 4 of Apprentice UK as the "out of town" shopping centre.

Previous owned companies[edit]

As well as the shopping centre, Merry Hill also owned a bus company called Merry Hill Minibuses (formed in 1987) which was created to compete against then West Midlands Travel. It was created at that time to be the major form of public transport linking the surrounding areas with the shopping centre, of which approximately half had been opened by the time the service was launched (the first retailers had moved to the centre in 1985 and it was completed in 1989).

However, this was sold off to Travel West Midlands in 1998,[22] and subsequently rebranded Travel Merry Hill, leaving Merry Hill Centre management to concentrate on the shopping centre itself.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Westfield Group - Westfield Merry Hill (Customer Site)". The Westfield Group. Retrieved 2006-12-18. 
  2. ^ https://intu.co.uk/merryhill/stores
  3. ^ "Express & Star Newspaper - Sell-off at Merry Hill". Midland News Association (Express & Star). Retrieved 2007-01-02. 
  4. ^ a b c Brierley Hill Area Action Plan Preferred Options Baseline Report
  5. ^ Berry Ritchie, The Story of Tarmac Page 108, Published by James & James (Publishers) Ltd, 1999
  6. ^ Merry Hill Shopping Centre - Phase 1-5 Merry Hill
  7. ^ a b UK regional focus: Robin Hood's Merry Hill Richardson Brothers
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ David Lawson (1996). "Real estate twins do nothing by halves". David Lawson. Retrieved 2008-05-24. 
  10. ^ "Chase & Partners Report Appendix 4 – Dudley". Black Country Consortium. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  11. ^ "WH Smith store in Dudley is to shut". Express & Star. 29 June 2013. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  12. ^ "Merry Hill parking charge would damage region say critics". Express & Star. 14 October 2011. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  13. ^ "Local Development Framework - Brierley Hill AAP". Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  14. ^ "Dudley 'worst among medium centres' for empty shops". BBC News. 4 September 2012. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  15. ^ a b "Portsmouth's Monorail - Privately Financed". Fact Sheet No 128. Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group. November 2001. Retrieved 2008-10-09. ""Merry Hill train terror" was the headline as 20 shoppers waited to be rescued from the monorail jammed 50 feet above ground. [..] this monorail, Von Roll Mark III, was opened on 1 June 1991 at a cost of GBP22m. With its claim of 70 standing passengers per train, a maximum flow of 1800 passengers per hour per direction [..] opening of the monorail was delayed [..] In 1992 the line closed for essential maintenance and in 1996 was reported as being up for sale." 
  16. ^ Williams, Andy (2005). "Andy Williams railway photos - Miscellaneous". Retrieved 2008-10-09. "[..] running over what [..] is called a rotary switch. [..] the south end of the line was double-tracked [and] left-hand running was the normal practise. The monorail was operational from 1991 to 1996, when it succumbed to a mixture of technical and safety issues. [..] I seem to recall that the monorail wasn't always operating, [..] it didn't really go anybear useful, and you had to pay to ride it. [..] This monorail was a Von Roll system. It had been out of use for five years when it was dismantled in 2001. The equipment was sold to the operators of the Broadbeach system in Australia [..] there's now little or no evidence that a monorail ever existed" 
  17. ^ "Westfield Group - Westfield Merry Hill (Corporate Site)". The Westfield Group. Archived from the original on 9 November 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-01. 
  18. ^ "The Quest". 
  19. ^ Merry Hill mania for switch-on by Peter
  20. ^ "Rejected author has last laugh (The Times Online)". The Times. Retrieved 2010-12-09. 
  21. ^ "Catherine O’Flynn on exploring possibilities of life as we know it". The Birmingham Post. Retrieved 2010-12-09. 
  22. ^ West Midlands Travel Ltd Acquires Merry Hill Minibuses Ltd (1997/03/25) Thomsons Financial Mergers and Acquisitions

External links[edit]