Key Points:

Hundreds of workers are labouring at fever pitch as Westfield prepares to open its new $210 million 7ha mall at Albany next Thursday.

About half the 142-shop mall opens next week with the final stage earmarked to open on November 1.

The countdown is on for the two-phase opening, as finishing touches are put on four long corridors of new stores, designed on a north-south and east-west axis.

Armies of builders, shopfitters, store designers, retailers, electricians and trades people were yesterday swarming over the site, fitting out stores ready for the opening.

Around 3500 construction workers have been on the site since January last year and 1500 new retail jobs will be created when the centre is finished.

Some big retailers already have their lights in, floors down, shelves up and merchandise stacked ready for next week.

Justin Lynch, deputy director of Westfield, said K-Mart and New World got a generous 15-week handover between when the shell of their store was finished and when they could move on to the site to fit out the store. The smaller stores, which take less time to complete, get four to six weeks to fit out interiors and to stock shelves.

The new centre is on Don McKinnon Drive, behind the Pak 'N Save supermarket and just south of the North Harbour Stadium.

Westfield will open the first 65 shops, blocking off half the mall while work is finished on the rest including the large-format Farmers and SkyCity multiplex.

Westfield Albany will have the North Shore's first K-Mart and the shore's first SkyCity cinemas. The centre will also be the first new mall Westfield has developed since crossing the Tasman a decade ago to snap up the country's large shopping centre portfolio, most of which were developed by Fletchers in its heyday.

Not everyone is excited about the new mall. The Herald's aerial photograph of the centre published last week drew strong reader opposition.

"How absolutely ghastly. Do we really need more shops?" asked one reader.

Another questioned rents and how popular the centre would be in a city which has just had the 6.5ha Sylvia Park shopping centre finished in Mt Wellington.

But Paul Keane of specialist retail consultants RCG of Parnell said Auckland demand was extremely strong.

"The shape and the size of the centre is determined by what the consumer wants.

"And what's at Albany is exactly what people want, driven simply by demand," Mr Keane said.

The new Westfield was simply meeting a demand for a large shopping centre, which had been sorely lacking on the North Shore for many years, he said.

Westfield will open 35 new shops at its expanded Manukau mall on November 30 and Mr Lynch said two large new projects are planned for next year.

Westfield is the world's largest mall owner, with 121 centres worth $67.8 billion in Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Westfield Albany will have:

* 1800 cinema seats in 10 theatres.
* 142 shops spread over 5.2ha.
* A total 7ha of indoor area.
* Farmers, K-Mart, New World and cinemas.
* Parking for 2300 vehicles on the site.