New charges at Windsor will help to pay restoration costs: St George's Hall put on display to reveal the extent of devastation at the fire-damaged castle

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PEOPLE do not usually think twice about a sign that reads 'In case of fire, sound alarm'. But it is impossible not to be struck by the irony of those words being displayed in St George's Hall, one of the State Rooms ravaged by the fire at Windsor Castle a year ago.

At first glance, there is little else to burn in the shell of this once-splendid room. And the three domestic-sized fire-extinguishers huddled to one side seem a little ill-equipped for this far-from-domestic-sized room.

In its bruised and sorry state, St George's Hall was yesterday put on show to the world's press, as part of a progress report on the restoration project. One look at the hall went some way to explaining why it will take at least five years and cost between pounds 30m and pounds 40m to reconstruct the fire-damaged part of the castle. However, the original estimates had put the figure far higher, at about pounds 60m, Buckingham Palace staff said yesterday.

The devastation is more than five times greater than that at Hampton Court. Apart from nine state rooms destroyed or damaged by fire, water or smoke another 58 staff bedrooms, 18 bathrooms, 26 ancillary rooms, and the Great Kitchen were also affected. More than 75 miles of scaffolding has been erected on the site.

Michael Peat, director of finance, said that for anything beyond repair, officials will commission 'something that represents the best of contemporary architecture, design and craftsmanship, as our predecessors have done'.

Palace staff also confirmed that admission charges to the castle will be altered: about 70 per cent of the restoration costs will come from admissions to both Windsor and Buckingham Palace. A single ticket will cost pounds 8, which covers entry to the various sections open to the public. Previously there were different entry charges for different areas - pounds 4 for the State Apartments and pounds 2 for The Gallery, for example: if visitors wanted to see the lot, they paid pounds 9. However, if they only wanted to visit the precincts, as an estimated 2 million people did each year, there was no charge.

Nigel Griffiths, Labour's consumer affairs spokesman, criticised the move. He said: 'It is quite wrong to charge people in this way to enter property they already pay for without consultation with Parliament. We should reinforce the strength of feeling by charging her pounds 8 for coming into Parliament tomorrow.'

It is only the row of plaster shields - coats of arms of the Knights of the Garter - which had been beyond the flames' reach, which indicate that St George's is not the cavernous hall of some delapidated Victorian railway station. Walls once lined with wood panelling and portraits of kings and queens are bare brick surfaces.

(Photographs omitted)

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