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SocGen going to Canary Wharf

THE SQUARE MILE has suffered its second setback in four weeks with news that Societe Generale Bank is set to follow HSBC to Canary Wharf.

The French bank, which snapped up controversial fund manager Nicola Horlick last year, is close to agreeing terms to build its new London headquarters next to the famous Canary Wharf tower. SocGen needs about 500,000 sq ft of space and has been unable to find a City alternative to house its 2,000 staff under one roof.

A trophy London building at Canary Wharf is seen as a means to consolidate SocGen's expanding operations. Since Ms Horlick's high-profile appointment as joint managing director of SocGen Asset Management, the bank has continued to strengthen its City standing by concluding a pounds 300m takeover of blue- blooded merchant bank Hambros.

Sources say the bank's decision to quit the Square Mile for Canary Wharf makes perfect sense. Martin Wallace, a leading partner at estate agent Jones Lang Wootton, said: "Canary Wharf is the easy solution if an occupier wants to get under one roof at a low cost in a short space of time. Docklands is an ideal location for Societe Generale because of its proximity to London City Airport and links to the bank's headquarters in Paris."

SocGen also considered redeveloping its offices at Towergate, opposite the Tower of London, but such a scheme would probably not be ready in time. The bank has a 2001 occupation deadline, which severely limits options in the Square Mile. Difficulties associated with land acquisition and planning consent are in stark contrast to the fast track at Canary Wharf, where a large building can be delivered within 30 months.

The bank will also benefit from controversial tax breaks offered to occupiers by Canary Wharf Ltd. The incentives hark back to the early 1990s when Canary Wharf still enjoyed Enterprise Zone status.