1,500 jobs plan for shopping centre

Up to 1,500 new jobs could be created after plans were unveiled to boost the number of shops and eateries at one of Britain's biggest shopping centres.

Consultation has begun on an application to extend up to 20% of the existing retail and catering space at Bluewater in Greenhithe, near Dartford, Kent.

The giant mall is one of the UK's largest, alongside London's Westfield, the Metrocentre in Gateshead and the Trafford Centre in Manchester. Since it opened in March 1999, Bluewater has more than 330 stores spread over 1.6 million sq ft and attracts around 28 million visitors a year.

The anticipated 1,500 new jobs would be made available to local residents through the centre's on-site training and recruitment unit, the Learning Shop.

Bluewater said the plans would build upon its "aspirational tenant mix, reinforcing its position as Europe's leading retail, leisure and events destination".

Its general manager, Robert Goodman, said: "A key element of Bluewater's success has been its ability to evolve. Whilst significant enhancements have been made to Bluewater's offer since opening, we are keen to ensure that Bluewater's guests, in particular the local community, have the very best retail and leisure available."

Consultation by co-owners of Bluewater, Lend Lease, has begun and the planning application will be submitted later this year, a Bluewater spokesman said.

Trading performance has been good at Bluewater through the recession, with sales up by 6% in June, compared to the same time last year. In the first six months of this year, 10 new brands signed up, with a further eight completing store refits.

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said: "I welcome these proposals and am confident that Lend Lease and Bluewater will work closely with the community to create something that will not only be commercially successful, but which will bring many more benefits to the Dartford and the wider north Kent community.

"Not least of these will be a very significant number of jobs, training and investment in the local economy."