The Bishopsgate Bomb: Business as usual after firms find premises to rehouse staff

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The Independent Online
THE CITY of London went back to work yesterday determined to prove that it was business as usual despite the extensive damage caused by Saturday's IRA bomb in Bishopsgate.

Commuters poured through Liverpool Street station, many of its skylights blown out by the blast. Max Taylor, 36, from Billericay, Essex, said: 'We didn't know what was going to happen, but we all took a gamble on getting in. It's important we don't resign ourselves to sitting around at home waiting for the Government or whatever agency to do something to prevent these attacks.'

Michael Cassidy, policy and planning chief executive for the Corporation of London, praised the commuters for 'their usual dogged determination', adding: 'The more imposition that one has to bring to City businesses, then the more you are giving victory to the IRA.'

Throughout the day the police, fire brigade and officers from the Corporation of London's engineers and surveyors department combed through the affected streets, searching for clues and securing buildings. By lunchtime around 500 tons of glass and rubble had been collected.

The weekend explosion severely damaged the 52-storey NatWest tower and the London headquarters of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, reduced a historic church to a heap of rubble, and blew windows out of buildings more than half a mile away.

Philip Holetriss, director of London Damage Control, one of the largest teams of emergency workers, said: 'It's going to be days before some people will be able to get back to their offices. Some we have looked at this morning are completely wrecked, with toilets torn off the walls and office partitions blown down. Many are not safe to work in.'

Estimates of the amount of office space damaged range from 1 million to 1.5 million sq ft, housing up to 20,000 people. The bulk of that was occupied by NatWest and the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, which have rehoused staff in other offices around the City. That leaves companies occupying about 400,000 sq ft, looking for new offices.

Peter Bennett, the Corporation's deputy surveyor, said that 50 staff had manned phones at Guildhall since Saturday, matching companies in need of temporary offices with those who, because of the commercial property slump, had plenty to spare.

Employees of the state-owned Turkish bank, T C Ziraat Bankasi, began the day with a working breakfast in McDonald's. Restoration of its offices after last year's bomb was finished on Friday, a day before they were devastated once again. It found temporary offices through the Corporation yesterday morning.

Other companies' relocation plans were delayed by the difficulty in gaining access to the bomb site, leaving them unable to determine whether they needed alternative offices for months or just weeks.

Many companies had contingency plans in place after last year's bomb at the Baltic Exchange. Norton Rose, a leading firm of solicitors with offices on Camomile Street, 50 metres from the Bishopsgate blast, co-ordinated the dispersal of its 850 staff in groups of seven and eight across the City through a 'command centre' set up in temporary accommodation.

Not all the assistance being offered was welcome. Some City firms complained of being inundated with calls by office supplies companies from as far away as the Midlands.

Suggestions that London's attraction as a global financial centre was diminished were dismissed by Sir Nicholas Goodison, president of the British Bankers' Association and chairman of TSB. 'The foreign banking community feels just about as angry and annoyed and as determined to succeed as the British banking community,' he said, adding that if the IRA thought that the bomb would damage London as a financial centre it would have to think again.