Bombed, battered, unbowed, Manchester gets back to business as usual

`It sends a message that Manchester is back, ready for Christmas'
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The Independent Online
The hoarding on the side of Manchester's bomb-blasted Arndale Centre didn't apply to Marks & Spencer, but it might as well have done. "Back in business" it read in huge blue letters - "You can't keep a big name down."

The packed aisles in M&S's lingerie, food and Christmas gifts departments seemed to speak of the city centre's determination to do the same.

"It's just great to have it back open. I couldn't wait to get down here - we were determined to be here for the first day," said Clare Winterburn from Chorlton.

"I've only been to town twice since the bombing. There didn't seem any point coming. But I've missed my M&S," she said.

So, apparently had the staff. Peter Winter, 55, of the menswear department, had been relocated to a suburban branch during the five months it took Marks & Spencer to open its replacement stores. He said staff were "really emotional" at returning to the city centre. "It was like a building site just two weeks ago - it's amazing" he said.

Indeed, the only glum faces in the whole store yesterday appeared on those stuck in the lengthy queues for the checkout.

The original store and its office tower, destroyed in June when an IRA bomb devastated buildings over a one-mile radius, has yet to be demolished.

It will be two years before the opening of a replacement "flagship" store.

But yesterday's opening of two temporary M&S outlets in the city centre would seem to be an important symbolic, as well as economic, step in the recovery of the area - a fact reinforced by the presence of Sir Richard Greenbury, the company chairman.

"It sends a message that Manchester is back, ready for trading for Christmas" said a spokesman for the company.

Getting the two temporary stores open in such a short time had been "very difficult" and required the full backing of M&S's considerable resources.

There certainly appeared to be nothing "temporary" about the plush and polished new branches, based in Lewis's department store and a few yards away in Spring Gardens.

Other smaller retailers, however, have not been as fortunate. At the far end of the Arndale Centre, the premature Christmas decorations and fairy lights could not hide the length of chipboard, scaffolding, and apologies for disruption. Or the deserted shopfronts still boasting "Summer'' displays.

The council has ensured that many of the affected traders have been relocated, often in groups, but many have still not reopened.

"They've been shut all this time and there will still be some for whatever reason who have chosen not to relocate. But our estimate is of the 700 out of action at least 650 will be back within a fortnight" said Richard Leese, leader of the city council.

The cost of relocation has been largely met by pounds 1.5m raised by the Lord Mayor's emergency fund. The final cost of rebuilding is expected to reach pounds 1bn. Most of the money will come from the private sector and insurance, with some sought from the Government and the European Union.

Two weeks ago Mr Leese was among a delegation that met Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, to inform him of the likely cost. "Obviously we're concerned about sufficient refunding. Obviously it would be a big list if they announce the refunding at the same time as we announce the plans for rebuilding next Tuesday" he said.

That is when the winning architectural team in an international competition to redesign the city centre will be announced.

Mr Leese said he would be disappointed if the rebuilding project did not just replace the city centre but significantly improve it. He expects some of the 1960s and 70s architecture to be replaced by buildings "more sympathetic" to the city's heritage. "I suspect the city centre will be a far more pleasant place to be, but certainly the business base will be increased; the retail, leisure, residential use and accessibility will also increase," he said.

And in Marks & Spencer yesterday there did not appear to be too many tears for the site destroyed by the bomb. "It was a public convenience, wasn't it? said Angela Cooper in the lingerie department. "I didn't come into town once when there was no M&S. I'll be back a lot more from now on."

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