A deserted shopping centre in West Lothian, once a bustling hub that attracted one million visitors, now stands empty just 25 years after its grand opening.
The Five Sisters Freeport Shopping Village, which opened its doors in 1996, boasted more than 40 stores and was hailed as Scotland’s top spot for designer clothes.
The massive 50,000 square feet shopping centre near West Calder drew in over a million visitors in its first year alone. It promised to expand its premises to include more leisure facilities, such as a snow centre and a golf course.
Situated conveniently off the M8 motorway, it was an easy travel distance for most people living in central Scotland, nestled between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The centre was open seven days a week from 10am, offering top brands like Versace, DKNY, Calvin Klein, Rockport and Levis.
It also housed a Leisureland facility, packed with soft play areas, go karts, an entertainment centre and many more activities for children. Two cafes and two restaurants were on site to cater to all customer needs.
Just a year after its opening, the bosses at Freeport Leisure had plans to extend the premises.
They submitted a planning application to West Lothian Council for an £18 million upgrade to the leisure centre, which would have featured ski slopes, toboggan runs, snowboarding, and a children’s winter wonderland.
However, the plans for a new golf course and putting range never came to fruition as Freeport’s fortunes began to change rapidly. The opening of the new Livingston Designer Outlet in 2000 had a significant impact on the store.
Customers started to drift away in large numbers, and shop owners also relocated their businesses to the new outlet in Livingston. The decline was swift, and by 2001, most of the shops had closed, with the remaining ones offering clearance sales and preparing to leave.
By 2004, Freeport Leisure decided it was time to close the centre. Since then, the site has been abandoned, with the BBC using it for filming a children’s zombie show in 2015.
Chairman of Freeport, Sean Collidge, admitted at the time that the Livingston outlet opening nearby was their downfall.
He said: “This scheme was 100 per cent let when it opened in 1996 and had four tremendous years. Then retail in Scotland became overpopulated in the central belt”
West Lothian Council have rejected plans to create housing in the area but say in their Local Plan that they are keen to see it redeveloped.
A spokesperson said: “The re-development, or re-use, of Westwood (Freeport), near West Calder, previously operating as a factory outlet centre, is supported by the council. Leisure and tourist uses, specialised employment, starter units (Class 4), or institutional uses appropriate to a rural location will be supported.
“Some element of new or extended building outwith the development envelope on site and/or housing (very low density and a maximum of 30 houses meriting a rural location, all confined to the development envelope) will be considered, where this is shown to be necessary in terms of the financial viability of an appropriate scheme.”