Prams swarm like killer bees as super-mall invasion starts

 

Colonisation has begun, resistance is futile. Ireland's "age of the super-mall" was confirmed yesterday with the public opening of the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre in Lucan.

Smiling politicians and celebrities may sample its delights next month at the grand opening, but yesterday was strictly for the shoppers.

Prams swarmed like killer bees, some lining up in tank formation, to attack the 70 shops in Dublin's latest consumer paradise. Anchored by three main shops, Marks & Spencer, Boots and C&A, it also includes Eason's, Golden Discs, Carl Scarpa, Oasis, Next and newcomers Ciro Citterio and Virgin Vie.

The centre's American-style layout includes "herringbone" parking for 3,000 cars and a food court with a South Beach Miami theme. Although much smaller in scale, the mall could pass for any on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Designed with space in mind, it boasts high glass ceilings, marble floors and bright lighting. "We've tried to bring an element of difference, to make it more of a leisure experience," says Mr Dick de Broekert, group development director for joint developer Grosvenor Estate Holdings.

The entire mall is disabled-accessible and includes specially designated parking, toilet facilities and elevators. Extra-wide aisles in all the stores accommodate both wheelchairs and prams.

Baby changing rooms, mother and child toilets and creches are available. Liffey Valley also maintains a strict non-smoking policy.

The 300,000 shoppers expected each week may avail of hair salons, travel and banking services and, eventually, a 15-screen multiplex cinema. It is planned that by 2002 the site will evolve into Ireland's largest retail park, including motor dealers, a hotel and conference, office and leisure facilities.

More than £150 million was spent on the project, and it is expected to employ over 3,200 people in the short term. Twenty minutes from central Dublin by car, Liffey Valley sees its catchment area as 1.45 million potential shoppers.

Vehicle access to the site is from the specially built M4 slip road and Coldcutt Road underpass in Lucan.

"I think it would be naive to think that traffic would not be a problem, but we've tried to plan traffic within boundaries of site," says Mr de Broekert.

As with most new projects, Liffey Valley still has some difficulties to sort out. Transportation for those without cars, especially the elderly and disabled, is limited.

Although served by 12 Dublin bus routes, passengers are left with a walk to the shops. However, powered scooters and manual or powered wheelchairs are provided.

Negotiations are still under way with a hackney company. A delivery problem means there are no rubbish bins outside, which has caused an unsightly litter problem.

Despite these drawbacks, the crowds are likely to remain even when the band, balloons, jugglers and cartoon characters have gone.