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'French'portico survives at British Museum

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English Heritage last week told Camden council it is satisfied that the troublesome south portico of the British Museum has been improved enough through remedial works to its controversial French stone that it should not be demolished. But commissioners also in effect slapped a fine on the museum's trustees for their 'dereliction of duty'over the affair by advising the Heritage Lottery Fund to withhold an 'appropriate proportion' of its grant offer of £2 million.

EHchairman Sir Neil Cossons said the Grade I-listed museum, 'one of the finest Neo-Classical buildings in the country', had been improved by what he branded 'a triumph' - the Foster and Partners'Great Court scheme.

'All the more pity, therefore, that the trustees and management of the museum have allowed the south portico - one of the most prominent aspects of the scheme - to fall short of this standard, ' he said.

'This is a dereliction of their duty to the building which we do not condone.'

EHsaid the south portico was always intended to be seen as a new structure and an enhancement of the Sir Robert Smirke building and would have appeared so even if built of Portland stone. In the end it was constructed of anstrude roche claire, a French limestone. The Heritage Lottery Fund is to discuss the issue next month but has withheld £1.3 million of its £15.75 million grant, made in October 1997.

The Queen is set to open the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court next Wednesday.

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