Gravesend like so many towns is caught between the twin threats of online shopping and the out-of-town mall. In our case that is Bluewater.
Built in a former chalk quarry the Bluewater site occupies 240 acres and has 154,000m2 of sales area, making it the fourth-largest shopping centre in the UK and the sixth largest in Europe. It has 330 stores, 40 cafés and restaurants, a 13-screen cinema and parking for 13,000 cars. This is a shopping destination.
It’s something of a blessing and a curse employing 7,000 people many of whom live in Gravesend. Yet the overwhelming majority of the stores are national or international chains so the bulk of that revenue heads of elsewhere. Bluewater serves over 27 million visitors a year, that’s a huge number of drivers on local roads, very few spending other than at the centre itself.
What to do? Gravesend certainly can’t ignore the behemoth only 5 miles west. I for one would hate to see it become a ‘theme town’ resting on its history and connection to the Thames, but I’m not sure I know the alternative.