The Trafford Centre (also known as the intu Trafford Centre) is a large indoor shopping centre and leisure complex in Trafford, Greater Manchester, England. In the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford, the centre is close to the Trafford Park industrial estate and approximately five miles west of Manchester city centre. The Trafford Centre opened in 1998 and is the second largest shopping centre in the United Kingdom by retail size. It was developed by the Peel Group and is owned by Intu Properties following a £1.65 billion sale in 2011 - the largest single property acquisition in British history. As of 2017, the centre has a market value of £2.312 billion.
The site was owned by the Manchester Ship Canal Company until 1986, when the company was acquired by John Whittaker of Peel Holdings, who had plans to build an out-of-town shopping centre. The planning process was one of the longest and most expensive in the history of the United Kingdom; concerns surrounded the effect the shopping centre might have on retailers in the smaller towns and villages in the Greater Manchester conurbation and potential traffic problems caused by the its proximity to the M60 motorway. Ultimately, the matter was decided by the House of Lords in 1996, which voted in favour of the development.
Twelve years after the Trafford Centre was first conceptualised by the Peel Group, it opened on 10 September 1998. Construction took 27 months at a cost of £600 million - approximately £1 billion in 2016. Two further extensions have since opened, Barton Square and the Great Hall in 2008, at a combined cost of over £100 million. Its vivid and quirky rococo/late baroque architectural style pays homage to the history of the area. The Orient food hall is themed as a steam ship, reflecting the centre's proximity to the Manchester Ship Canal.
Ten per cent of the UK population live within a 45-minute drive of the shopping centre which attracts more than 35 million visits annually. It has Europe's largest food court in The Orient and the UK's busiest cinema, attracting more than 28,500 visitors each week. There are over 11,500 car parking spaces. The Trafford Park Line will form a direct Metrolink tram connection from the Trafford Centre to Manchester city centre via Pomona - construction of which began in 2016 and is expected to be operational by 2021.
Manchester City Council retained seats on the board of the Ship Canal Company until the mid-1980s. By then the arrangement had become "meaningless", as the majority of the company's shares were controlled by property developer, John Whittaker. Crucially, the council were powerless and Peel held voting rights due to majority shareholding. In 1986, the council gave up all but one of its seats for a payment of £10 million and extricated itself from a possible conflict of interest, as Whittaker was proposing to develop the large out-of-town shopping centre on company land at Dumplington, which became the Trafford Centre.