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Monday, 4 December, 2000, 15:32 GMT
British Museum opens to controversy
View of South Portico
The South Portico is made from French limestone, not British Portland stone
The central feature of the 100m development of the British Museum's grand courtyard, which is opened by the Queen on Wednesday, has been criticised by heritage officials.

Museum officials were accused of "dereliction of duty" by English Heritage after it was revealed contractors used the wrong kind of stone to build the South Portico feature of the London museum.

Glass roof
The Museum's glass roof is made from 3,000 panels
It has been built with French limestone and not the British Portland stone of the existing 19th century neo-classical building.

Critics have complained that the new stone is lighter than the existing material.

Sir Jocelyn Stevens, former chairman of English Heritage told BBC News 24, that the museum had tried to solve the problem by cheating.

He said: "They have disguised some of the mistakes and errors so they cannot be seen by the human eye.

"These great buildings were built to last forever but we have these people cheating."

Suzanne Taverne, managing director of the museum, said: "Whether or not it is the wrong stone we have the right result.

"It is an absolutely magnificent structure. At no stage has English Heritage suggested it has come down and their advice is that it should remain."

Lord Foster's glass roof
3,312 glass panels
478 tonnes of steel
315 tonnes of glass
11km of roof structure
The development is the latest Millennium Commission-funded project to be surrounded in controversy, following the financial woes of the Dome and the structural problems of the Millennium Bridge, which was designed by Lord Foster, the architect of the British Museum's new glass roof.

Museum officials have been keen to praise the new roof of the revamped courtyard, which is built from three thousand glass panels.

Suzanne Taverne told BBC News 24: "It is a magnificent, soaring roof.

"We have created the largest covered square in Europe, a great new public square for London.

"It is also a new hub for the museum, with galleries and the historic round reading room at its heart."

The museum was completed in 1850.

Its central quadrangle was roofed but the space was soon filled with books, which were removed to the new British Library in 1998, freeing up the space for the first time in more than a century.

The original 1850s reading room remains at the centre of the quadrangle, with Foster's roof above it.

"It remains a library, for the first time a reference library available to everyone," said Ms Taverne.

The design also includes new exhibition spaces, shops, a restaurant and educational facilities.

The BBC's Nick Higham at the British Museum
"A lattice of steel and glass... spanning the size of the pitch at Wembley"
The BBC's Rory Maclean
"The great courtyard project is finally unveiled"
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