People & Business: Super-SIB's search for sq ft has agents drooling

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The Independent Online
Whither super-SIB? Or rather, which of the handful of suitable sites in London will house Labour's new investment regulator?

The subject is a hot topic in regulatory circles, not least because the 2,000-odd staff may end up in Canary Wharf in London's Docklands, still not the easiest place to get to and from.

Word is that staff from the nine existing bodies which will go to make up the new leviathan are fighting a rearguard action to avoid banishment downriver. Optimists argue that since super-SIB's chairman, Howard Davies, lives in west London, he is unlikely to want to commute that far east.

Finding a site for super-SIB is also making property agents drool, being by far the biggest property deal in the capital for some time.

Super-SIB will need around 300,000 sq ft of space by next year, which narrows the number of acceptable sites. There are three buildings nearing completion in central London at the 200,000 sq ft mark - for instance, a building by Argyll and Helical Bar on London Wall. Overspill could be housed in the NatWest Tower near by, which itself is just being refurbished.

Another theory goes thus: The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is still embarrassed by the spendthrift image gained under its former boss Jacques Attali, who spent more on the head office marble loos and gold taps than he did on lending to needy countries.

This theory suggests that the EBRD is seeking someone else to take up the lease on its 367,000 sq ft Bishopsgate office so that it can move to cheaper digs in Canary Wharf. And who better to move into Bishopsgate than super-SIB?

Another contender is a giant site in Spitalfields, earmarked as the new home of Liffe, the futures market that continues to grow at a prodigious rate. However, if Liffe does a U-Turn and abandons its "open outcry" trading for screen-based trading, it won't need such a big new building. Again, super-SIB could leap in and take the building instead.

The regulators will be up against stiff competition for space in the City. WestDeutsche Landesbank is about to make a decision on taking 400,000 sq ft, while Goldman Sachs is also poised to expand. Whatever happens, the property agents will be quaffing champers for some time to come.

Still on the subject of SuperSIB, I hear that its head of human resources is going to be Sandra Jenner. She will come with a warm endorsement from her present colleagues at the Personal Investment Authority (PIA) where she holds a similar position.

Her most interesting decision at the PIA has been the attempt to exclude members of staff from the board of trustees of the PIA pension scheme despite the provisions of the 1995 Pensions Act.

The people at BZW may be back on track following this year's better results, but the 3,500 staff recently relocated to Canary Wharf have had a salutary introduction to the measly public transport facilities in Docklands.

Most people in Canary Wharf rely on the Docklands Light Railway(DLR). This week it instituted a bizarre one-way pedestrian scheme lasting four months while one of its escalators at Bank Underground station is repaired. So if you want to transfer from the DLR to the Tube you have to walk underground to Embankment station, emerge at street level and then walk all the way back to Bank station.

This has prompted scenes of mass revolt by passengers, who don't see why they can't use other staircases in Bank station. Investment bankers from BZW, Credit Suisse First Boston and Morgan Stanley are all affected. What's the banking equivalent of a Peasants' Revolt?

Recent management upheavals at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden have been described as "more dramatic than anything Verdi came up with". At the centre is Mary Allen, due to take up the post of chief executive next month after the shock resignation of Genista McIntosh.

The ROH has just closed for a two-year refurbishment that will cost pounds 213m. MPs have criticised the way Ms Allen was recruited from her previous job as secretary- general of the Arts Council.

Anyway, I had not realised she was married to Nigel Pantling, one of three senior executives at Hambros Bank who resigned last month over the bank's involvement with Andrew Regan's attempt to buy the Co-op. Mr Pantling is now on "gardening leave". Some in the opera world suspect his wife may join him if the current wave of criticism does not subside.