Out of town shopping centres can be a force for good in developing deprived areas, a new study of the Merry Hill shopping centre has concluded.
The report, by academics at Birmingham University, contradicts the common view that retail parks suck cash and investment out of towns and cities.
It was launched by Black Country MP and Skills Minister Ian Pearson (Lab Dudley North) at the Labour conference in Bournemouth.
The study asked Black Country organisations ranging from traders to tenants' associations what the impact of Merry Hill had been on the Brierley Hill area. It found 86 per cent believed the shopping centre had boosted regeneration.
Commissioned by the Brierley Hill Regeneration Partnership (BHRP), the academic report, published by the University of Birmingham's Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, examined the extent to which the Merry Hill shopping centre has encouraged economic growth, job creation and physical change to the area.
Mr Pearson said: "This research really emphasises the key role that retail development can play in securing long-term social, physical and economic regeneration benefits for areas suffering from economic decline and under investment.
"It highlights what I as a local MP have known for many years, that the Merry Hill shopping centre has become a development vital to the local and regional place making project under way in Brierley Hill and the Black Country."
The findings were supported by an announcement by Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears earlier this month, which recommended a critical change in regional strategic development policy (West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy), to recognise the growing role of Brierley Hill as a strategic town centre in the wider Black Country.
However, this research suggests that many people already consider the area to be a functioning town centre and recognise the vital role retail has played in this.
The report concluded retail-led regeneration had created jobs and increased the value of land.
Tim Sunter, chief executive of Brierley Hill Regeneration Partnership, said: "For over a century Brierley Hill residents had identified with the manufacturing industries which dominated in the area. When those industries collapsed in the late seventies, the area searched in vain for a new identity.
"The Merry Hill shopping centre, partially built on the site of a former major steel works provided much needed jobs - but more than this, Merry Hill's owners' willingness to engage in close, meaningful partnership with public and community sector has helped address the town's wider needs.
"Close partnership work has helped Brierley Hill become a beacon for wider investment and this report highlights how without the retail development the hundreds of millions of pounds that have been invested in a state of the art health and social care centre, a regional integrated transport network and office business complex and market-leading educational institution would not have been possible."
Steven Hassel, development director of Westfield Shoppingtowns Ltd, the owners of Merry Hill, said: "Historically, retail sites have been seen as a bogey-man in terms of creators of jobs and economic development.
"This report is based on hard evidence and it ends the myth that they have nothing to offer."