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Camden defer decision over south portico

15 January 2001

Camden council, under whose planning jurisdiction the British Museum falls, has deferred its decision about the south portico of the Great Court Scheme pending independent legal opinion.

The south portico has been built in Anstrude Roche Claire French limestone instead of the British Portland limestone which the council believed they were consenting.

The council\'s development control committee considered the matter when they met on 14 December, the week after the Queen had officially opened the Great Court that now bears her name.

English Heritage had advised the council that it did not believe the demolition of the south portico was justified and Camden\'s conservation design officer, Robin Harper, told the committee that while the Museum was in breach of listed building consent, the council\'s officers did not feel there were sufficient grounds for enforcement action.

Several of the councillors were not convinced. They felt they had given permission for a particular material to be used and they expected that material to be used.

If there were insufficient grounds to take action over a planning infringement on an internationally significant building like the British Museum, how could there be sufficient grounds to enforce against a householder\'s conservatory or dormer window, wondered Cllr Flick Rea. This will hang around our neck like an albatross, she said.

The Museum, through its marketing director, Carol Homden, reported that the French stone used was fine and strong and that the Trustees gave an undertaking in perpetuity to rectify any faults that appeared in it.

The councillors also complained that the spectacular glass roof of the Great Court Scheme was more visible from outside the museum than they had been led to believe it would be.

They decided to defer any decision about insisting on the portico being demolished or the Museum being prosecuted until they had received independent legal opinion.

A council spokesperson said afterwards the matter would be reconsidered in the light of that independent opinion probably early spring.

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