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Government accused of trying to ‘rig’ Holocaust Memorial consultation

  • 7 Comments

The government has been accused of trying to ‘rig’ the consultation for Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad’s controversial Holocaust Memorial after its public engagement campaign led to a spike in supportive comments

The government has confirmed that it paid £118,000 to engagement consultant Big Ideas for supporting the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation (UKHMF) planning application.

According to Big Ideas, the campaign is supporting ‘public participation’ and enabling people to give their views on the planning portal with a particular focus on groups where ‘access is a barrier to participation’. 

But it has come under scrutiny from opponents of the memorial, who have accused the government of attempting to ‘rig’ the planning application by bulk posting comments.

According to Save Victoria Tower Gardens (SVTG), the number of supportive comments sent to the planning authority, Westminster Council, has grown from an average of one a day to 149 a day.

The campaigners say that the consultant, which posted 384 positive responses in one day, has overseen a ‘complete reversal in the balance of comments’.

The consultant has been collecting responses through a questionnaire which asks respondents whether they support the plans and the location, and requests permission to submit comments on their behalf.

As it stands, the application has attracted 965 objections and 2,834 messages of support.

Clare Annamalai, of the Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign, said: ‘The increasing desperation of the government has now led it to use taxpayers’ money to create a veneer of support for this unpopular project.

‘However noble the purpose, trying to squeeze a big museum into a tiny park is never going to work.’ 

Adjaye and Arad’s Holocaust Memorial – which the architects recently redesigned – has proved deeply divisive, drawing heavyweight objections from Historic England, the UK branch of Icomos (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) and the Royal Parks

But while its critics argue the small park by the Thames in Westminster is the wrong location for the project, its supporters argue that siting it next to the Houses of Parliament is symbolic.

Housing secretary James Brokenshire has claimed the memorial would act as a reminder that the ‘central role of democracy is to encourage tolerance’.

The project is also supported by UK Holocaust memorial charities the Holocaust Educational Trust and Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, while a letter of support has been sent by the rabbis of nine Westminster synagogues. 

A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: ‘The council cannot express support or opposition to live planning applications.

‘We know there are strong feelings on both sides of this application and it will be considered in the same way we would any other sensitive scheme.

‘We have processes in place for handling – and giving the appropriate weight to – organised campaigns. This scheme will be considered on its merits and in line with council policy at a future planning committee.’

The Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government declined to comment. Big Ideas has also been approached for a response. 

  • 7 Comments

Readers' comments (7)

  • It is very sad that the Government is resorting to 'dirty tricks' and the use of undue pressure to get its project over the planning line. It is indeed patently obvious that the vast majority of those who have signed up to the Big Ideas questionnaire have no knowledge whatsoever of the park in question, or of the planning issues at stake. Mob rule taking on the British planning system? is this really the democratic ideal that the UKHMF is trying to promote by locating this wretched project next to Parliament?

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  • There is a real danger here that the government 'massaging' of public opinion in favour of this project in order to bulldoze it through might play into the hands of the genuinely anti-semitic in giving them a very substantial cause celebre.
    If the government motivation is to head-off potential accusations of anti-semitism in Westminster, they need to consider the implications very carefully, because they risk pouring petrol on the current slow-burning row rather than damping it down.
    And what does the government's behaviour say for its commitment to the basic priciples of open democracy?

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  • As a non architect ,just an ordinary person who loves London’s green spaces I feel very sad that “ consultation” has come to this .

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  • £118,000 for 'Big Ideas' a public engagement consultant is extraordinary & this appears to show the sum has been paid to completely circumvent the democratic system.
    “collecting responses through a questionnaire which asks respondents whether they support the plans and the location, and requests permission to submit comments on their behalf” is surely unprecedented.
    ‘Big Ideas’ could have submitted up to 2,834 messages of support?
    Bad Idea!
    All 2nd hand proxy submissions should be struck off by Westminster CC, with only submissions made on a level playing field acceptable.

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  • Tick-box, knee jerk instant petitions are dimishing thoughtful and informed public debate. This is a depressing cheapening of important issues and ideas. This memorial is a beautiful idea in concept and drawn realisation, but crushing it into such a small and already complete oasis of calm leaves both it and the present monuments no room to breathe. Green Park is equally, if not more, symbolic a central space in the national heartland, and would give room to approach it, and to appreciate its scale and context, in contemplative spirit. Move it, and then build it quickly while the passion is still warm.

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  • Good thinking, Robert Franklin.

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  • There used to be an unwritten rule that Westminster was full and no more memorials should be allowed except in exceptional circumstances. As there are other holocaust memorials and given the site area available is this really sensible or is it so politically charged that it must happen somewhere and in some form? I don’t have an answer but would not support Green Park as an alternative.

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