Council votes down Holocaust memorial plan but Government still committed to project

11 February 2020, 22:44

Victoria Tower Gardens in Westminster / Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick
Victoria Tower Gardens in Westminster / Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick. Picture: Adam Becket / PA

A council has voted down a proposal to build a national Holocaust memorial next to Parliament - but the Government minister who has the final say has reiterated his commitment to the project.

In an emotional meeting, Westminster City Council's planning committee voted unanimously to reject allowing the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre to be built in Victoria Tower Gardens, saying it contravenes planning rules on size, design and location.

One Labour councillor said the council had been left in an "awful position" by a Government pledge five years ago to build a memorial in central London, without consultation.

But Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said the Government remains "implacably committed" to the memorial.

With his voice at times breaking, Cllr David Boothroyd said: "That left us in this iniquitous position where we are now having to decide whether to disappoint people who are making points about their local park with perfect sincerity, or to refuse the Holocaust Memorial Centre within a fortnight of Holocaust Memorial Day.

The proposed location of the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens
The proposed location of the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens. Picture: Adam Becket

"It is an awful position for us to be in."

Objections to the proposal came from a range of groups including Historic England, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and Royal Parks, the meeting heard.

Planning officer David Dorward told the meeting concerns with the location ranged from fear of harm to trees and increased security risks to more traffic in the area.

In a statement released before the meeting had ended, Mr Jenrick said: "The Government remains implacably committed to the construction of the Holocaust Memorial and Education Centre right at the heart of our democracy, beside our national parliament to ensure that future generations never forget.

"No one, whether in national or local government should shirk their duty to deliver on the promise of this memorial, and the Government certainly will not."

A Holocaust survivor said building a memorial beside the Palace of Westminster "where decisions are made" would help leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

Addressing the meeting Mala Tribich said: "A memorial now next to Parliament where decisions are made will help us to learn the lessons that we have not done so far.

"As the Holocaust recedes into history and we survivors become less able to share our testimonies this memorial and learning centre will be a lasting legacy so that future generations will understand why it is important for people to remember the Holocaust, to learn from the past and stand up against injustice."

Following the meeting planning chairman Councillor Robert Rigby said while the council supported the principle of having such a memorial in central London, it could not approve the proposal.

"If it were Westminster City Council taking a decision on the application, it would have been refused on heritage grounds; the location in Victoria Tower Gardens, its size and design would cause considerable harm and would have a significant, detrimental impact on one of the few remaining green spaces on the Thames Embankment," he said.

"We would have very likely accepted a proposal of much smaller scale in that park. But the issue is now in the Secretary of State's hands to make the final decision and we will share the findings of the planning committee with him through the public inquiry."

Mr Rigby said it is "right" that the Communities Secretary will make the final decision.

Victoria Tower Gardens is a Grade II-listed park and forms a small triangular green space next to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament - collectively designated as a World Heritage Site.

The Holocaust memorial's design features 23 large bronze fin structures for visitors to walk among, leading to an underground learning centre.

At a service in London on Holocaust Memorial Day last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised that a national Holocaust memorial and education centre will be built.

His comments came within a year of an announcement by then-prime minister Theresa May backing the Victoria Tower Gardens plans, which followed David Cameron's 2015 pledge to have a Holocaust memorial in central London.

The council's decision will form part of a public inquiry due to take place in summer, after which the Communities Secretary will make a final decision.