Merry Hill Dudley Case Study

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.[3]



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.[4]

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.[5]

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 Carrefourhypermarket 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 & TK Maxx.[6]

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.[4]

On 24 December 1990,[7] the shopping centre was sold to Mountleigh.

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.[8]

Phase 4 was partly remodelled in early-1996, a mere seven years after it had been built.[4]

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.

Merry Hill had brought about the first free-standing Pizza Hut in the UK, the first drive-thru McDonald's restaurant and the largest Texas Homecare store - all opened during 1986.[9]

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.[7]

In June 2016, Intu Properties acquired a remaining 50% of the Merry Hill estate for £410,000,000 from the Queensland Investment Corporation before expenses.

Effect on surrounding towns[edit]

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.

By the summer of 1986, two retail parks existed at the site, incorporating retailers including B&Q, Halfords and Texas Homecare.

The first shopping centre opened in April 1986, with Frenchhypermarket 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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.


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 Midland 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,[14] but ran sporadically until 1996.[15]

After the system was put up for sale in 1996,[14] 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.

At the end of Monorail service, a "monorail replacement bus" service operated between the UCI Cinema and The Waterfront car parks. This service utilised two Travel Merry Hill owned MCW Metrobuses.

Main centre[edit]

The centre has around 210 stores and over 10,000 free car parking spaces,[1] with a total retail floorspace of 154,002m² (1.593m ft²),[16] making the centre the fifth largest in the United Kingdom, behind the MetroCentre, Bluewater, Trafford Centre and Westfield Stratford City.[citation needed]

Merry Hill is home to anchor stores Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Primark and Asda.

Retail park[edit]

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.


Below are just a few of the many stores - as of March 2018 the shopping centre contains:
Matalan, Hobbycraft, Halfords, Carpetright, Maplin, DFS, Mothercare, Pets at Home


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.[citation needed]

Recent developments[edit]

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 Midland Metrotram 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.[citation needed]


Bus station[edit]

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.

Similarly, the bus services connect the centre to Cradley Heath Interchange-Rail Station, for local services to Birmingham Snow Hill, Kidderminster and Worcester via Stourbridge Junction.

Various distance bus services operate from Merry Hill. Operated by National Express West Midlands, Go Bus And Diamond Bus which was previously Hanson's Local Buses and Arriva Midlands.


Transport for West Midlands plans to open a new line of the Midland Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, with a new stop at Merry Hill.[17] 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.

In culture[edit]

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.[18][19]

Working at Merry Hill gave Catherine O'Flynn the inspiration for the fictional Green Oaks centre, the main location in her successful novel What Was Lost,[20][21]

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.


  1. ^ ab"Westfield Group - Westfield Merry Hill (Customer Site)". The Westfield Group. Archived from the original on 3 January 2007. Retrieved 18 December 2006. 
  2. ^
  3. ^"Express & Star Newspaper - Sell-off at Merry Hill". Midland News Association (Express & Star). Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2007. 
  4. ^ abcBrierley Hill Area Action Plan Preferred Options Baseline ReportArchived 13 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^Berry Ritchie, The Story of Tarmac page 108, Published by James & James (Publishers) Ltd, 1999
  6. ^Merry Hill Shopping Centre - Phase 1-5 Merry HillArchived 19 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ abUK regional focus: Robin Hood's Merry Hill Richardson Brothers[dead link]
  8. ^[1]
  9. ^David Lawson (1996). "Real estate twins do nothing by halves". David Lawson. Retrieved 24 May 2008. 
  10. ^"Chase & Partners Report Appendix 4 – Dudley"(PDF). Black Country Consortium. Retrieved 5 September 2013. [dead link]
  11. ^"WH Smith store in Dudley is to shut". Express & Star. 29 June 2013. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  12. ^"Merry Hill parking charge would damage region say critics". Express & Star. 14 October 2011. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  13. ^"Local Development Framework - Brierley Hill AAP". Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  14. ^ ab"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.  
  15. ^Williams, Andy (2005). "Andy Williams railway photos - Miscellaneous". Retrieved 9 October 2008.  
  16. ^"Westfield Group - Westfield Merry Hill (Corporate Site)". The Westfield Group. Archived from the original on 9 November 2006. Retrieved 1 December 2006. 
  17. ^"Wednesbury To Brierley Hill". 4 July 2016. Retrieved 7 September 2016. 
  18. ^"Special Report Adventure Time An Ooo Experience At intu Merry Hill". RegularCapital: Cartoon Network International News. RegularCapital. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  19. ^"The Mother". The Amazing World of Gumball. Season 3. Episode 17. 18 September 2014. 11 minutes in. Cartoon Network. 
  20. ^"Rejected author has last laugh (The Times Online)". The Times. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 
  21. ^"Catherine O'Flynn on exploring possibilities of life as we know it". The Birmingham Post. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Merry Hill Shopping Centre at Wikimedia Commons

Odeon Cinema, intu Merry Hill

Assess the Impact Of Out of Town Shopping Centre Retailing Areas on the Regions in Which They Occur.

Prior to 1980s, all shopping centres were located within city centres, such as the Arndale centre in Manchester. Out of town shopping centres sprang up with the increase of the cars, in 1960 39.5% of UK households had no cars, but by the year 2000, this had drastically fallen to 27.4%. This and newly implemented transport link, such as rail, bus and tram opened up a new world to consumers as they were more able to travel away from the CBD. For the first time, this allowed shopping centres to spring up on the outskirts of cities. The Trafford Centre, built in 1998, is an example of an out of town shopping centre. It is located in Trafford, Greater Manchester, and runs adjacent to the Bridgewater Canal.  Merry Hill, built in the 1980s, is a further example, located in Brierley Hill, near Dudley in the West Midlands. But what are the effects of developments such as these upon the areas in which they occur?

Traditionally, the shopping hierarchy was such that the CBD had the greatest sphere of influence and low order shops with the smallest, but with the rise of out of town shopping centres, the CBD’s position has been encroached. The Trafford Centre’s ideally located along the M60; it is easily accessible from junctions 9 or 10. There’s also bus links from Manchester and Stockport town centres and plans are in place to extend the metro link in to the area. Out of town centres can be more attractive to customer, given the prior mentioned lower traffic, often lesser parking charges and various other attractions they offer, such as the Trafford centre’s laser quest, cinema, miniature gold, dodgems, bowling, Legoland and arcade. The indoor nature of the shopping centres means that shoppers are also not subject to the weather, which would stem sales on the high street. With access being this easy and attractions being this ripe, shoppers have changed their habits.

Nearby areas such as Manchester’s own CBD, Altrincham and Stockport have been impacted by these changes in shopping habits. The shops of Altrincham’s high street are unable to draw their usual local consumer base, having served 212,000 residents and the local wealthy areas of Hale and Bowden. Shops are unable to compete with the free parking offered by the Trafford centre, which has a much greater sphere of influence, where 95% of people come from a 50 mile radius. This has caused many of the shops to close, having the positive feedback effect of causing other shops to lose business a window shoppers’ decrease. This pattern is reflected across the country, 25% of town shops are now empty in the Midlands. The Arndale centre, located in Manchester’s CBD also suffered, effects were worsened as it was being rebuilt after the 1996 Manchester Bombings and had to compete with the rapidly established Trafford centre Merry Hill also posed this plight to neighbouring town centres. Dudley was the worst affected area as the development coincided with Dudley Council’s implementation of parking charges and, similarly to Altrincham, it lost a large proportion of its customer base and shops had to shut down.

Out of town developments can often spark off redevelopment competitions with town centres, with both fighting to receive the greatest custom. Some may argue however, that the redevelopments already taking place thanks to the bombings in Manchester allowed for modernisation, allowing the Arndale to continually compete with the Trafford Centre. In its previous 1970’s state, it was unable to keep up with the modern, more sociable design of the centre. This arguably lessened the impact, as during the development many concepts used by out of town shopping centres were implemented, such as maximizing the natural light in a previously dark shopping centre in order to be able to compete. Solihull, one of the towns affected by Merry Hill, was not so fortunate; it had to recover from a greater loss of sales. By the 1990s, the Solihull town centre had become seemingly outdated. It was unable to compete with the transport links, the free parking, and the vast array of services including a cinema and citizen’s advice bureau in Merry Hill. Solihull is an example of where some large chains even relocate to out of town shopping centres. But in a positive twist to this negative impact, it spawned a massive redevelopment of the city centre, known as “Touchwood”. Designed to complement the existing architecture, Touchwood was developed as a 60,000m2 shopping and entertainment centre in the centre of the town. In combat against the likes of Merry Hill, it mirrored its attracting features, such as its strategic location on the M42 and its masses of parking spaces. After increasing sales every year since opening, Merry Hill has had to recompete, with plans for a 12 screen cinema, a bowling alley, comedy club, a casino and other leisure activities.

Out of town shopping centres often contribute to urban sprawl taking place on the urban-rural fringe. This has come to the objection of many environmentalists, farmers and those who generally hold appreciation for country areas. Merry Hill was met with protests. It was built on the former Merry Hill farm site, causing a loss of greenbelt land. Furthermore, the development took advantage of a ‘Government Enterprise Zone’, intended initially for the creation of industrial units. Furthermore, it attracted other developments; the owners of Merry Hill even suggest it is creating a new town itself, with new houses appearing alongside. Additionally, since the Touchwood development, the proposed response of Merry Hill, such as the 12 screen cinema, will further increase urban sprawl in the area to the extent where the development is merging with the nearby town centre of Brierley. Trafford Centre, was built on a brownfield site in Dumplington, and so did not meet this opposition. But there’s already evidence to suggest it is attracting further nearby developments, such as the newly ‘Chill Factore’.

Increased road use is another one of the common complaints raised about out of town shopping centres, as the centres can attract so many people in a single day (the Trafford Centre has 27 million visitors each year). The popularity of the Trafford Centre for instance, means that there is often congestion on the M60’s Barton Bridge. Furthermore, centres are often built in rural areas, such as Bluewater in Kent, often spark resentment from locals, those who often do not want change and farmers who fear damage from visitors and resent their land being split by new roads to support the shopping centre.

Despite the seemingly prominent negative impacts of out of town shopping centres, it’s not to suggest that they are in no way beneficial. They contribute greatly to the local employment opportunities; Merry Hill & the Trafford Centre produce opportunities for chefs, store workers, cleaners and various other roles. The Trafford centre currently employs 7,000 people from a local workforce. Furthermore, with the average spend being £100, and 27 million yearly visitors, there is much stimulation for the local economy. Merry Hill similarly employs 2,700 locals and has 21 million visitors per year. The easy access of both sites and, in fact,, all out of town shopping centre sites, means that customers don’t have to compete with CBD traffic, a positive impact of the development as it allows for easy access for consumers and reduces city congestion for commuters.

Conclusively, out of town shopping developments bring wealth to an area and provide jobs. But similarly, they can take that from other surrounding areas. But I feel it important to note that the negative impacts are generally on rival shopping areas and where areas are willing to redevelop, such as the Touchwood centre, success can still be achieved despite their existence. Impacts are generally positive for consumers, who get to walk around, out of the weather in an area that’s easier to access than the CBD, evidence shows that 24% of the Trafford Centre visitors visit once a week and just under 40% visiting once or twice a month. To the greater public though greater traffic congestion and damage to the countryside often takes place. You could even go so far as to say the greater sphere of influence for out of town developments means transport generates more pollution, leaving a greater carbon footprint which could potentially contribute to the greenhouse effect.

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