Ask any number of Australian tenants of Westfield shopping centres and you will hear, off the record, claims of hard dealings and tough management. Relations between the smaller retailers and Westfield are not always harmonious.

Now the poor benighted Poms, who reckon they know a thing or three about retailing, are being taken to the cleaners by the Kings Of Blacktown (where it started) and the Lowy family (the kings of tax transfers via Lichtenstein tax havens).

What’s amazing about the story is the shamelessness of Westfield. Not even a week has passed since it opened its huge gamble, AKA known as Westfield London, and the complaints have started from tenants. The Financial Times reports:

Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group and the New Look fashion chain are among the stores preparing to battle against Westfield London’s owners over the proposed increases of up to 75% in the expected charge, which covers costs from cleaning to marketing.

Retailers say that they were given a guide for the annual cost of about £8 per sq ft, but are now being asked to pay almost £14, giving the Shepherds Bush location one of the most expensive shopping centre charges in the UK. Not all stores have received notification of a change.

The higher charge than expected could push up costs for some retailers by more than £500,000 a year. The centre opened to huge crowds last Thursday.

The service charge figure was an estimate rather than a contractual obligation, although this has not stopped tenants reacting angrily. Some are threatening to refuse to pay the extra amount.”

Followers of the Westfield and Lowy approach to retailing and competition in Australia and the US won’t be surprised. In fact they would nod their heads sagely and remark that its good to see Frank, Peter, Steve and the rest of the gang in “good form”.

Who remembers the phony local residents groups around Burwood and South Granville in the late 90s that were fronts for Westfield which was opposed to new shopping centre developments in the area of its centres at Burwood and Parramatta?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey