Leading Article: Safe and sound in the Square Mile

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The Independent Online
IT IS tempting to deplore the roadblocks thrown up around the City of London by police over the weekend. The closure of 18 roads into the Square Mile, intended to make it more difficult for the IRA to make a hat trick of its two huge City bombs of the past two years, may have been carried out in consultation with the City Corporation and the business interests it represents. But neighbouring districts that will see an inevitable increase in traffic were barely consulted; and the traffic jams for the first few days are likely to be more than the 'two or three minutes' delay' promised by the optimistic police computer.

Yet the City authorities had little choice. Foreign banks and financial institutions were willing to accept that the first bomb, at the Baltic Exchange in April 1992, could be merely the result of bad luck; the second, in Bishopsgate a year later, made them ask more searching questions about the precautions taken in the City against terrorism.

It may be true that nothing short of Belfast-style armoured cars, machine guns and inspections of every passing vehicle can ensure complete security. But the institutions wanted the outside world to know that something was being done. Since financial services are among the world's most mobile businesses, the authorities could not risk ignoring these concerns. Photographs and maps of the entry points will help London branch managers of foreign businesses to reassure their head offices in New York or Tokyo.

There should be no illusions, however. Even if it becomes permanent, the City's reversion to medieval-style entry controls will not leave the IRA without targets. The City came under attack only after other targets, such as public figures, Downing Street and the London transport network, were made less attractive. Once the City has ceased to be the weakest link in the country's political, social and economic chain, something else will take its place and become the next IRA target.

Working Londoners may live to see some good come from all this. The areas of the City that are now mostly reserved for walkers, such as the Broadgate development, Throgmorton Avenue and Devonshire Square, are among its most pleasant parts. There is a good case for extending the principle to some of the main City thoroughfares. Cafes and pubs would do better business, buildings would require less cleaning, the air would be more palatable, and walking from meeting to meeting would become less stressful. To compensate for the hasty way in which the roadblocks have been erected, the City Corporation would do well to start a broader public debate on this. The Square Mile is not just a business district, it is also a city centre with a great heritage. More space for pedestrians would make that easier to enjoy.

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