Castles may fall to French cash

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of years after they first withstood invasion, England's castles may finally be taken over by the French. Work on monuments including Dover Castle, Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall is being put out to tender and a French-owned company is favourite to win the pounds 10m contract.

If Sita, a subsidiary of Lyonnaise des Eaux which specialises in refuse collection and waste disposal, wins the three-year-contract, it will be responsible for maintaining and restoring 400 of Britain's historic buildings and monuments.

Lyonnaise des Eaux owns North East Water and the BMI chain of private hospitals and also has a big holding in General Cable, one of the top five cable companies in Britain.

Yesterday an English Heritage spokesman refused to comment on the bids, describing them as "commercially sensitive" but said that to have a French company bidding for a contract of this kind was "not unusual". The bid follows English Heritage's decision to sell its restoration department as part of its privatisation process.

England's historic monuments are not the only institutions to face a Gallic invasion. Two months ago Dover faced being bought up by Calais, its Channel counterpart, as part of government privatisation plans.

Passions ran high and the Queen Mother wrote to the Sir George Young, Secretary of State for Transport, to make him aware of the strength of local opposition. As Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, the Queen Mother is traditionally responsible for protecting the towns' shores from foreign marauders.