Housing secretary Robert Jenrick is headed to the high court to defend his handling of the planning application for the proposed Holocaust Memorial by Ron Arad and Adjaye Associates
The London Gardens Trust has applied for a judicial review of Jenrick’s decision to allow his junior colleague, housing minister Christopher Pincher, to determine the fate of the application.
The application for a memorial and visitor centre in the Grade II-listed Victoria Tower Gardens was called in by Jenrick in November – hours before Parliament was dissolved and three months before Westminster Council unanimously rejected the scheme in a symbolic, but redundant, vote.
The application for the proposed new landmark was submitted in 2018 by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, an organisation sponsored by Jenrick’s department, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
Campaigners are concerned that Pincher will be unable to decide neutrally on the application, given his senior colleague Jenrick’s close association with the project.
In February Jenrick said he was ‘implacably committed’ to building the memorial in Victoria Square Gardens, and last month it emerged he had called in the application following meetings with board members of the UK Holocaust Memorial Trust.
‘The issue for the High Court is whether Pincher, the decision-maker, is lawfully insulated from his boss Jenrick, who has applied for planning permission: we don’t think so,’ said solicitor Richard Buxton, who represents the London Gardens Trust.
A spokesperson for MHCLG said it could not comment on live legal proceedings, but said: ‘All planning decisions taken by ministers are taken in line with published propriety guidance, which states that planning decisions must be made solely on the basis of valid planning matters.’
She added: ‘A public inquiry will be held and overseen by an independent planning inspector. The Housing Minister will make the final decision on the application taking into account the inspector’s recommendation.’
The location of the memorial faces opposition from campaigners including Jewish leaders and a former Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as The Royal parks and UNESCO.
Jenrick has recently been in the headlines for his controversial role in planning controversy surrounding the 1,500-home Westferry Printworks scheme.
Documents released last month reveal Jenrick was ‘insistent’ on pushing through the project to save its backer, Conservative party donor Richard Desmond, £45 million.
Jenrick had previously denied there was any ‘actual bias’ behind his contentious approval for PLP’s £1 billion east London scheme, against the planning inspector’s advice. His unexpected decision came just 24 hours before Labour-held Tower Hamlets Council increased its community infrastructure levy rates on 15 January.
It has since emerged that Jenrick had sat next to developer and media magnate Desmond at a Conservative party fundraising dinner in November; that Desmond had brought up his development company Northern & Shell’s Westferry Printworks scheme at the dinner; and that Desmond had gifted the party £12,000 just two weeks after Jenrick’s approval.
Last month the government admitted Jenrick’s approval was ‘unlawful by reason of apparent bias’ and the housing secretary’s planning permission was subsequently quashed.