Business owners in an East London shopping centre say they are suffering under the council’s plans to build a ‘mini Manhattan’ in the area.

Under the regeneration plan, Barking’s Vicarage Field Shopping Centre will be bulldozed in favour of new development.

The town centre shopping mall should be buzzing right now because of the festive season, but instead it is plagued by several leaks and is so quiet one business owner compared it to a library.

READ MORE: Public inquiry to begin after order to acquire Vicarage Field met with objections

Futuristic CGI drawings show the shopping centre in an unrecognisable light because it is set to be flattened and replaced with 855 homes, a hotel, a cinema, a music venue as well as a primary school and a doctors by the end of the decade.

The bold plans are part of transforming and reviving the borough and will see some of the capital’s most historic and famous markets, Billingsgate, Smithfield and New Spitalfields relocate to Dagenham Dock from 2027 onwards.

Vicarage Field shopping centre was bought by Pinebridge Benson Elliott [formerly Benson Elliott] in 2015 for £35m.

READ MORE: Vicarage Field shopping centre bought for £35m

At the time of the purchase, Pinebridge Benson Elliott said: “Barking town centre is a focus for this positive change. The growth commission stated it should be the initial priority and act as an exemplar for the council’s new approach to its urban areas, with the tenure and price mix of the area serving to encourage a more aspirational population.”

Be First, the council’s regeneration arm wants the regeneration to improve the “poor impression” Barking’s railway station gives and recognises Vicarage Field as “a key catalyst” for high quality change.

But back in the town centre, businesses inside the shopping centre have mixed feelings about the regeneration plans because they say the mall has been in serious decline for a number of years, with one business describing it as a “ghost town”.


The shopping centre is plagued by leaks

The shopping centre is plagued by leaks


One business owner who did not want to give their name, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he is dealing with several leaks inside of his shop and argues the centre has had “no investment” for a number of years.

Throughout the shopping centre, multiple leaks are noticeable as plastic buckets and boxes have been temporarily placed there for the large puddles that have formed. It’s also freezing because of energy bills being so high, another business told the LDRS.

The first business owner said: “I appreciate the certain things [the council] did with regards to suspension of rent during Covid and lockdowns, I appreciate that a great deal. But the infrastructure of the shopping centre has had no investment for a number of years.


One business argued the shopping centre has had \no investment\ for a number of years

One business argued the shopping centre has had \'no investment\' for a number of years


“At the moment I’ve got four leaks in my shop. It’s very, very difficult and a very, very difficult time to be in any over-the-counter retail business at the moment.”

He added: “We are one of the poorest boroughs in London, you’re charging people to park at a car park, which they don’t want to do. There’s no point because there’s no shops within the shopping centre.”

Council leader Darren Rodwell has insisted the new look town centre will not be “a playground for the rich”, but did compare the redevelopment to a “mini Manhattan”, where some of the more affluent New Yorkers live in the American capital.


One business compared the shopping centre to a \ghost town\ Credit: Ruby Gregory / free to use

One business compared the shopping centre to a \'ghost town\' Credit: Ruby Gregory / free to use


In response to Mr Rodwell’s comments, the man said: “To have these incredible plans put forward to redevelop Barking town centre as a ‘mini Manhattan’ I find pie in the sky, I really do, with the money that could have been spent elsewhere within the borough.”

Located towards the main entrance of the shopping centre is Dessert Studio, a dessert shop that was opened by two brothers, Muhammad Shakeel and Muhammad Maaz eight months ago.

Gazing over the glossy CGI drawings of the new Vicarage Field, Maaz said: “I guess a new shopping centre would definitely attract more people because of the hype. But then what would happen after five months?


Brothers Muhammad Maaz (L) and Muhammad Shakeel (R) opened a dessert shop in the mall eight months ago

Brothers Muhammad Maaz (L) and Muhammad Shakeel (R) opened a dessert shop in the mall eight months ago


“We don’t know. Footfall would drop. People who live in Barking don’t want to shop in the borough. They want to go out somewhere – you want to at least go to Stratford.”

This is the first business Maaz and his brother Shakeel who are both from Barking, have opened together, but they have plans to open another branch towards the capital after experiencing what they call a “ghost town”.

Maaz added: “It’s very quiet, it’s dead. Yesterday was Sunday and it was like a ghost town. It was like a library, you would hardly see people around. When we opened we obviously hoped it was going to be crazy, very busy. Because you have Starbucks, you have KFC, you have Costa out there but after eight months we can certainly say that it’s not true.”

He instead says the cost of living is a major factor as to why the shopping centre is so quiet: “People don’t have money, our business falls under the luxury. It’s not a necessity, you can live without waffles, bubble tea and crepes. There are a lot of factors to be honest.”

Another man working for a business in the shopping centre agrees, he said: “Believe me, local people are not coming. If you ask me the reality I’m telling you the truth. It’s hard, very hard. We can’t use the heater because the bill is now double, we only use one heater to keep our feet warm. Otherwise we can’t provide to customers, how are we supposed to keep the shop warm?”

After the LDRS got in touch with the council, a spokesperson for Be First, the council’s regeneration arm, said: “The Council and Be First recognise the changing nature of town centres / high streets across the country and have developed ambitious plans for Barking town centre to ensure it is fit for the future.

“The redevelopment of Vicarage Field to move from an enclosed single use shopping centre to an open high street with mix of footfall generating uses forms an important part of the vision and we are working with Pinebridge Benson Elliott to deliver it.

“We want to continue to see investment in the borough, with new homes and an improved food and drink offer and night-time economy for our residents and we’ll continue to work to deliver this. This includes working with the City of London regarding a public face for the wholesale markets moving to Dagenham Dock.”

Pinebridge Benson Elliott declined to comment.