The government will decide on the fate of David Adjaye and Ron Arad’s controversial Holocaust Memorial after agreeing to call in the planning application
The move by housing minister Esther McVey has taken the decision out of the hands Westminster Council – before the local authority had a chance to determine the plans for the contentious project in Victoria Tower Gardens.
McVey was responding to a request from UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation (UKHMF) which had written to ministers arguing it would not be ‘appropriate or reasonable’ for the council to decide on the scheme.
Their letter, originally addressed to housing secretary Robert Jenrick, claimed the project, which has faced fierce local opposition, would have an impact ‘beyond the immediate locality’ and should, therefore, be determined at a national level.
The Holocaust Memorial is a government-backed project and the letter recognised that Jenrick’s role as both the ‘applicant in this case’ and his support for the scheme made it ‘impossible’ for him to take any personal role in the decision to call in the scheme.
‘In the expectation, therefore, that this will be considered by a different minister, our request as chairs of the UKHMF is that the planning application for the memorial and learning centre should be treated as a project with significant effects beyond the immediate locality and should be called in for determination at a national level,’ it said.
A public inquiry will now be held and overseen by an independent planning inspector, while McVey will have the final call on the application.
The letter argued that the scheme had ‘generated national interest’ with over 4,500 comments uploaded to Westminster Council’s planning portal, many of which ‘refer to the significance of the memorial to the nation’.
However, a significant chunk of those comments were objections and the UKHMF has faced criticism for trying to ‘rig’ the planning application for the site after it paid consultants £118,000 for a ‘public engagement campaign’.
According to opponents of the scheme, the campaign saw a spike in the number of supportive comments sent to the planning authority from an average of one a day to 149 a day.
Westminster is likely to be unhappy at the call-in, which removes its powers to decide the application. It is not the first time the UKHMF has clashed with the local planning authority over the controversial planning application.
Balls and Pickles previously wrote to council leader Nickie Aiken, complaining that following a meeting between representatives of the applicants and planning officers ‘officers presented as giving excessive weight to the number of objections lodged on the planning portal’.
In Aiken’s response, she said she could not comment on the proposals as the application was live but refuted their ‘irresponsible and frankly offensive assertions’ about the operation of the council’s planning service.
In the correspondence, which was uncovered through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, Aiken also said the memorial scheme was heading towards an ’unfavourable recommendation’ by planners.
The opinion-splitting scheme, to which the government committed £50 million in 2015 to kickstart fundraising, has drawn objections from Historic England, the UK branch of Icomos (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) and the Royal Parks.
Supporters include UK Holocaust memorial charities the Holocaust Educational Trust and Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
An MHCLG spokesperson said: ’The housing minister [Esther McVey] has used powers under Section 77 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act to call-in the planning application for the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre.
’A public inquiry will be held and overseen by an independent planning inspector. The minister will make the final decision on the application taking into account the inspector’s recommendation.’
Westminster Council has been approached for comment.
Other than DCO for Stonehenge tunnel, I can’t think of a precedent for this. There are many projects of ‘national significance’ that never get called-in. Even Garden Bridge - which was in the National Infrastructure Plan - had to secure local planning consent. What am I missing? https://t.co/plBSki20Ga— Dan Anderson (@FourthStreetDan) November 6, 2019
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