From the IRA blast that tore the heart out of Manchester, a new and revitalised city is born

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The Independent Online
JUST FOR once, the famously inclement city of Manchester welcomed rain last night. The city laid on a carnival to celebrate its own spectacular recreation, more three years after an IRA bomb flattened its central shopping district, and called the finale, in which six musicians and a trapeze artist were shouldered above the crowds, "Raining Violins".

No one seemed sure if it was a riposte to the athlete Linford Christie who, three years ago, said the place was too wet to accommodate the 2000 Olympics. Unwittingly, the terrorists ripped away the worst excesses of the 1960s, concrete-inspired architecture on 15 June 1996 when they detonated their 3,300lb bomb. The reconstruction introduces stone, steel and reinforced glass structures in its place. The cost of the rebuild - pounds 550m so far, with pounds 84m of it in government, EU and millennium commission grants - is four times the cost of the damage caused by the bomb, which wiped out 49,000 square metres of prime retail space and displaced 700 businesses.

The Blairite feel to what the council leader, Richard Leese, yesterday called "new Manchester" runs right through the bus-only streets and traffic- free squares.

Last night, the new, pedestrianised Exchange Square, once the site of a busy road junction but now part of the city's new Millennium Quarter, was opened. The square is an elegant mix of old and new. Two listed public houses have been rebuilt alongside five stainless steel windmills.

Today Marks & Spencer, beside whose store the bomb went off, opens a new pounds 80m site, its largest in the world. A footbridge so badly damaged by the blast it had to be demolished has been replaced by sculpted glass, linking a remodelled Arndale Centre with the new store.

There are also rumours that Harvey Nichols is eyeing a berth in the new Shambles West, which replaces another1960s complex. The store would be three times the size of Harvey Nichols' only other northern outpost, in Leeds. Many other developers and retailers are also queuing for a part of the reinvented city.

The bomb has not been the only catalyst for investment. The Trafford Centre, one of Britain's largest out-of-town shopping complexes, was also emerging eight miles away as Manchester recovered from the bomb and at that point, the city's future looked gloomy.

"It was crucial that our predominant role as the retail and business centre of the region might not be threatened," Howard Bernstein, Manchester City Council's chief executive, said yesterday. "From the start it was decided not merely to repair... but turn the adversity into an opportunity to replan."

The council helped set up Manchester Millennium Ltd, the private and public sector task force which launched an international design competition for the plans which were to redefine the city. The result is already the hook for a campaign to improve the city's image, including a new "Manchester" typeface. This accompaniesphotographs of the new central city, which adorn a 50ft by 200ft banner in the Arndale Centre.

Though 220 people were injured in the blast, the IRA claimed no lives when it planted the bomb, the largest detonated in Britain since the Second World War. This, Manchester's biggest miracle of all, will be remembered today when Sam Hughes, the three-year-old photographed as a seven-month- old baby being carried bleeding from the wreckage, will officially open the Marks & Spencer store.