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Remembering the 1996 Manchester Bombing – Day 4

The Arndale Centre was the largest covered shopping centre in Europe when it opened in 1979.  By 1996 it had 130 000 square metres of retail space with over 230 individual stores laid out on two levels.  The centre was owned and managed at the time of the bombing by P&O Properties.  Its tenants included familiar household names such as Boots, Littlewoods, W H Smith and BHS as well as numerous small independent traders.  750 000 shoppers visited every week and it had recently been ranked the 7th most successful shopping centre in the UK.  It was valued at £200m.

The Arndale Centre had itself been a previous target of PIRA attacks with firebomb incidents as recently as 1991 and 1992.  A terrorist bomb was perceived as a plausible threat and the centre had a detailed incident response plan.  Regular evacuation rehearsals were conducted and, as a general rule, the centre could be cleared in less than 25 minutes.  When the bomb warning was received on the 15th of June, an evacuation was ordered and security staff cleared the centre.

As the smoke and dust cleared, the Arndale Centre was a scene of devastation.  The Corporation Street façade (nearest the bomb) had been demolished in parts and the shopping arcades were strewn with:

  • Shattered glass from shop fronts;
  • Stock from the shops, including rotting food; and
  • Water damage from the sprinkler system.

The roof of the centre was also on fire.  The initial estimate of the cost of repair was £50m.  The management team were allowed access to the site on Monday 17th June and the following immediate priorities were agreed:

  • Assess damage;
  • Deal with immediate safety issues; and
  • Restore essential services.

Making the centre safe included a significant effort to survey and remove asbestos which had become exposed by the damage to the building.  Despite this, the Market Hall was reopened after just two weeks, followed by parts of the ground floor in early July.  By the 29th of July, just over half the shops in the centre were open again; rising to 70% by Xmas.  The remainder reopened over the next 18 months, as restoration work was combined with a major redevelopment.  For many of the Arndale tenants, business returned to normal quite quickly: by the end of July Boots was reporting revenues running at 80% of pre-bomb levels and a number of other big stores were reporting similar trading levels.

Tomorrow, in our final blog post, we will look at the plight of the hundreds of small businesses caught up in the attack.