Westminster Council’s planning committee has unanimously refused Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad’s proposed Holocaust Memorial in the Grade II-listed Victoria Tower Gardens
However, the controversial scheme’s fate has already been taken out of the local authority’s hands after the application was called in by the government in November last year. A date for the planning inquiry has not yet been set.
Last night (11 February) the local councillors agreed with the council’s own planning officers, who had branded the memorial an ‘inappropriate development’ of the parkland site next to the Houses of Parliament and had recommended its refusal.
While supporting the principle of a Holocaust Memorial and learning centre, officers had argued the project would cause harm to a ‘range of heritage assets’ and historic monuments in the area.
The report also warned that the mainly subterranean competition-winning scheme would harm the function of Victoria Tower Gardens as an ‘open space for active recreation and relaxation’, because it could result in the loss of the park’s trees.
According to The Guardian, Robert Rigby, the council’s chair of planning, said last night: ‘As a council we’re completely behind the principle of having a Memorial and Learning Centre in central London to commemorate those that lost their lives in the most heinous crimes of the 20th century.
‘We must never let people forget the Holocaust and need to always educate future generations to stop it from ever happening again.’
Its size and design would cause considerable harm
But, he added: ‘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.’
The opinion-splitting scheme, to which the government committed £50 million in 2015 to kickstart fundraising, had drawn 1,194 objections, including ones from Historic England, the UK branch of Icomos (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) and The Royal Parks.
In addition, a petition with 12,868 signatures opposing the scheme has been submitted by the Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign.
The proposal also received 3,246 letters of support, with high-profile backers including UK Holocaust memorial charities the Holocaust Educational Trust and Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
The applicant UKHMF faced criticism during the consultation for allegedly trying to ‘rig’ the planning application for the site after it paid consultants Big Ideas Company £118,000 for a ‘public engagement campaign’.
The council’s planning report confirmed that over 3,000 of the comments uploaded were by Big Ideas Co, but said the company has ’not provided any details’ explaining where their community engagement exercises were carried out nor are they able to confirm the number of comments that they have submitted.
A spokesperson for Ron Arad said: ’Needless to say, we are disappointed that [the council] has not found a way to support the proposal, despite the hard work carried out by the wider team over the past two years to provide exhaustive evidence of the care and consideration for the site and its assets with which such a development would be realised.’
They added: ’[We believe] the decision has been called in, in recognition of the project’s wider significance as an opportunity for the whole of Britain to commemorate and remember the six million murdered men, women and children and all victims of Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides.
’It will ultimately be determined on the basis of the careful weighing of any potential risk to the site, against the extraordinary benefit and importance of creating Memorial of national and international significance for Britain.’
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick added: ’2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. As fewer survivors remain with us it is more important than ever for us to come together to remember the 6 million Jewish men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust and all other victims of Nazi persecution.
’The evil of the Holocaust must serve as a continual reminder to us all of why we need to make a stand against antisemitism, racism and hatred, whenever and wherever we find it.’
Jenrick added: ’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.’
An MHCLG spokesperson said: ’Following the call-in of 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 which will consider all available evidence.
’The final decision on the application will be made taking into account the inspector’s independent recommendation.’
@CityWestminster Planning Committee vote unanimously to support the Officers’ recommendation and reject the UKHMLC application.— SaveVictoriaTowerGdn (@SaveVTG) February 11, 2020
For and against the memorial
Support from: WCC Labour Group All-Party Parliamentary Group on Holocaust Memorial Archbishop of Canterbury Faith Leaders (letter from Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Qari Muhammad Asim, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols) Rabbi’s (Leaders of nine Westminster synagogues) Mayor of London Politicians (MPs and Lords)
Objections from: Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign Barrell Tree Consultancy Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Politicians (Councillor, MPs (Past and Present), Lords, Baroness) The Open Spaces Society The Tree Council Westminster Cycling Campaign Friends of Wandsworth Park The Amwell Society (Camden)
Holocaust memorial updated