Merry Hill Shopping Centre
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|No. of stores and services||210|
|No. of anchor tenants||5 (Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Primark, Asda and Next)|
|Total retail floor area||154,002m² (1.593m ft²)|
|No. of floors||2 (Some shops have extra floors)|
The Merry Hill Centre (officially Intu Merry Hill) is a shopping mall in Brierley Hill near Dudley, England. It was developed between 1985 and 1990, with several subsequent expansion and renovation projects.
The centre has over 250 shops, a separate retail park, cinema, food hall and ten-thousand parking spaces. Adjacent to the main shopping centre is a marina called The Waterfront accommodating a number of bars, restaurants and the offices of HM Revenue & Customs. The Dudley No.1 Canal passes though The Waterfront and along the edge of the shopping centre before descending to Delph Locks.
The centre's original developers and owners were Richardson Developments but it has had a number of other owners including Chelsfield, Mountleigh and Westfield. It is currently owned by Intu Properties.
In the 1980s, the UK 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.
Despite protests from local residents, 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 building contract for the shopping malls was let to Tarmac Construction.
The first shopping centre and a second phase of the retail park (including Halfords and B&Q which is now Toys R Us) 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 including major stores such as: Next and TK Maxx.
Construction of the final phase of the centre was finished in 1989, with the Sainsburys supermarket next-door to fast-food chain Burger King opening in October 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.
Development of the steelworks site did not commence until 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.
Phase 4 was partly remodelled in early 1996, a mere seven years after it had been built.
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 forty 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.
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.
Effect on surrounding towns
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When the Merry Hill Centre first 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 formerly Littlewoods, until they closed their branch. The Littlewoods chain went into administration in 2006, and the stores completely disappeared from UK high streets and shopping centres by 2007. 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.
The first shopping centre opened in April 1986, with French hypermarket giant Carrefour opening a store at the centre on 1 July that year. They sold the store to Gateway Foodmarkets two years later when withdrawing from the UK, 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 centre 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 Sainsburys, 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 nearby Dudley 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 their Dudley and West Bromwich stores open alongside it; however the declining trade in both of these towns led to both stores being closed on 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.
Twelve months after 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. 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 closed in 2013. C&A, who had a store at Merry Hill from November 1989 until withdrawing from the UK 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 the 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 criticised, ironically, due to fears of impacting trade.
In 2008, Merry Hill Centre, along with nearby Brierley Hill, was redesignated as the 'strategic town centre' of the Dudley Borough, and thus the focus of future local government investment.
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.
|Merry Hill Monorail|
An elevated monorail was opened at Merry Hill in 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 £22,000,000 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 West Midlands 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, but ran sporadically until 1996.
After the system was put up for sale in 1996, 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.
The centre has around 210 stores and over 10,000 free car parking spaces, with a total retail floorspace of 154,002m² (1.593m ft²), making the centre the fifth largest in the United Kingdom, behind the MetroCentre, Bluewater, Trafford Centre and Westfield Stratford City.
Beyond the main shopping centre is a separate retail park which has a number of shops and restaurants and also a cinema. Stores in this area include Next Home, Wren Kitchens, Oak Furniture Land, Harveys/Bensons for Beds, The Range, Currys and PC World.
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 the Odeon Cinemas chain.
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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 2002-2005, 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 West Midlands Metro tram system was scheduled to reach the site in 2011, but has been delayed indefinitely.
In July 2017, plans were revealed to expand the centre to include more restaurants and to open a new Odeon cinema inside the centre to replace the old multiplex at the retail park. In 2018, a new 75,000 sq ft flagship Next store will open replacing the Sainsbury's store that closed on 31 December 2016. 
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, Walsall, West Bromwich and Cradley Heath as well as the cities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
West Midlands Metro
Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) plans to open a new line of the West Midlands Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, with a new stop at Merry Hill. TfWM announced the new line will begin construction in 2019, with services beginning in 2023. The line will provide faster access to the shopping centre from Birmingham and Wolverhampton city centres.
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The areas around Next, TK Maxx, H&M, Eat Central, the amphitheatre and outside Debenhams at Merry Hill made an appearance on the popular Cartoon Network show, The Amazing World of Gumball as "Elmore Mall" in the episode called "The Mothers", Eat Central also made an appearance in the episode called "The Burden". Interior and exterior shots of Merry Hill have also featured in subsequent episodes.
The former Sainsburys at Merry Hill was featured in the third episode of the first series of the popular children's television programme Rosie and Jim, called "Supermarket" which was originally broadcast on ITV on 17 September 1990, and featured the boat's owner John Cunliffe going shopping at Sainsburys; with the ragdolls Rosie and Jim in tow.
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- Brierley Hill Area Action Plan Preferred Options Baseline Report Archived 13 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
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- "Portsmouth's Monorail - Privately Financed". Fact Sheet No 128. Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group. November 2001. Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2008.
"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.
- Williams, Andy (2005). "Andy Williams railway photos - Miscellaneous". Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2008.
[..] 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
- "Westfield Group - Westfield Merry Hill (Corporate Site)". The Westfield Group. Archived from the original on 9 November 2006. Retrieved 1 December 2006.
- Sainsbury's Merry Hill shuts after 27 years Express & Star 31 December 2016
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- "Special Report Adventure Time An Ooo Experience At intu Merry Hill". RegularCapital: Cartoon Network International News. RegularCapital. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
- "The Mother". The Amazing World of Gumball. Season 3. Episode 17. 18 September 2014. 11 minutes in. Cartoon Network.
- "Rejected author has last laugh (The Times Online)". The Times. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
- "Catherine O'Flynn on exploring possibilities of life as we know it". The Birmingham Post. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
Media related to Merry Hill Shopping Centre at Wikimedia Commons