Businesses 'facing pounds 100m damages bill'

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Almost one-tenth of all office space on the Isle of Dogs may be seriously structurally damaged, the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) said yesterday.

As police continued to search the wreckage thrown up by Friday night's bomb, the LDDC said up to 800,000sq ft of commercial space was in ruins, leaving a massive headache for companies wanting to get back to work. Loss adjusters were estimating damage and lost income at more than pounds 100m. One adjuster said the figure could climb as high as pounds 200m.

The attack will lead to a significant jump in businesses' anti-terrorism insurance costs this year, triggering full payment of premiums which had been conditionally discounted during the 17-month IRA ceasefire.

Insurance companies cut premiums following the August 1994 ceasefire by 20 per cent initially followed by a further, conditional cut which allowed businesses to pay 60 per cent of their insurance bill up front, with the obligation to pay the remaining 40 per cent only in the event of a major disaster.

The industry defined that as one costing in excess of pounds 75m, which compares with estimates of Friday's damage of between pounds 75m and pounds 150m. Those figures mean that companies will have to pay two-thirds as much again for insurance this year as they might otherwise have done.

Engineers have been given only limited access to the area nearest the blast, but that has been enough to suggest that some buildings may be beyond repair. A spokeswoman for the LDDC said it was too early to predict whether demolition would be necessary, but she added: "We have confirmed that 3 per cent of the total office space in the Isle of Dogs has serious structural damage.

"A further 3-5 per cent is being checked for structural damage. That's a total of about 8 per cent out of 10m square feet."

Andrew Neale, disaster manager for the Thomas Howell Group of chartered loss adjusters, said: "In broad terms, there is a lot less damage than the Bishopsgate bombing [in the City of London] but there are five or six multi-storey buildings badly damaged, there is some domestic property damage, defenestration and disruption to business and services. It's impossible to be precise at the moment but I would certainly put damage in the tens of millions of pounds, perhaps pounds 100m."

The LDDC and the police gathered business keyholders to a meeting yesterday in order to give them details of the damage done to their premises and to put them in touch with agents who could provide emergency accommodation and services.

By last night about 20 businesses were understood to have been affected and most had been found alternative office space and facilities.

Companies who aligned with disaster recovery firms after the devastation of the Bishopsgate bomb were in a better position than most. CAP-RS Disaster Recovery, which provides alternative services for a number of banks and finance companies, said its offices in Wapping would be housing a telecommunications company and a finance house whose premises were damaged last Friday.

"They have facilities and compatible computer equipment, so they can get up and running straight away,' he said.

"The telecommunications people have been setting up since Friday, but the finance house is so well-rehearsed that they plan to get up and running during Sunday night and start work on Monday morning."

Large sections of South Quay, including the devastated Midland Bank and Franklin Mint buildings, will remain cordoned off because of the danger of falling glass and masonry. Yesterday, police officers in protective clothing combed South Quay for fragments of the bomb, while divers searched West India Dock.

The Docklands Light Railway will remain closed between Canary Wharf and Island Gardens until the full extent of damage to South Quay station is known.