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Westminster planners reveal opposition to ‘inappropriate’ Holocaust Memorial

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Westminster planners have revealed they will oppose Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad’s ‘inappropriate’ Holocaust Memorial in the upcoming public inquiry to decide the scheme’s fate

The local authority was denied the chance to rule on the project after the deeply divisive plans to build a memorial in the Grade II-listed Victoria Tower Gardens were called in by the government in November last year.

Leaked emails that emerged before the call-in had suggested that the council was planning to reject the scheme, submitted in December 2018 for the site next to the Houses of Parliament.

Now the city council’s opposition to the scheme has been confirmed in a new report, to be discussed at a planning committee meeting next week (11 February), which brands the memorial an ‘inappropriate development’.

The report explains that, while it no longer has the power to decide the scheme, the council is still expected to submit its position, and supporting evidence, to the inquiry.

While supporting the principle of a Holocaust Memorial and learning centre, the report argues the project would cause harm to a ‘range of heritage assets’ in the area. 

It also opposes the scheme because it would harm the function of Victoria Tower Gardens as an ‘open space for active recreation and relaxation’ and because it could result in the loss of the park’s trees.

‘The large grass mound and fins, covering the underground space, will be alien to the otherwise flat and expansive nature of the garden landscape and will appear incongruous within this tight riverside setting,’ the report reads.

It says the level of harm the scheme will cause is ‘bordering on substantial’ and says that if the park’s trees are lost as a result of the development, then it is considered that the harm would be substantial. 

It adds: ‘The central question is whether or not the proposed location is suitable for the current proposal. Whilst proximity to Parliament may be considered desirable, given the harm which will be caused, Victoria Tower Gardens is not considered to be a suitable and appropriate location for the development proposed.’

The opinion-splitting scheme, to which the government committed £50 million in 2015 to kickstart fundraising, has 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 has also been submitted by the Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign, with 12,868 signatures opposing the scheme.

The proposal has 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.

Given the harm which will be caused, Victoria Tower Gardens is not considered to be a suitable and appropriate location for the development proposed

The applicant UKHMF faced criticism during the consultation for 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 date has not yet been set for the planning inquiry. 

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) 

Timeline holocaust memorial

Timeline holocaust memorial

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • I think that Westminster council has got it right, and surely the worry is that those determined to push this proposal through are risking adding fuel to the embers of anti=semitism - risking reinforcing stereotypes, and in particular the rabbis and 'faith leaders' should know better.
    Labour politicians might be hoping to improve their image - but they risk accusations of cynical opportunism.

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  • London should have a rethink on this. We would do well to see how the Deportation Martyrs Memorial close to Notre Dame in central Paris. It is discretely integrated into the Ile de la Cite whilst providing a suitable memorial place of contemplation for anyone who wants to visit.

    Current designs are too much like mix of a children's playground and a learning centre.

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  • Nathan Silver

    David Cameron's virtue-signalling choice of site for a Holocaust Memorial was his second worst decision. The Westminster Society joined others you mention in opposition. We objected to the memorial's placement in Victoria Tower Gardens on the grounds of security risk and increased traffic congestion, as well as the overwhelming of a peaceful and beloved small park.

    Our Biennial Award 2019 for Urban Design, for principled opposition to the siting of the memorial, was presented to Barbara Weiss, activist architect, Nina Grunfeld, community Leader, and Rowan Moore, architectural critic, citing them as follows:

    BUILDING A U.K. HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL THAT EVOKES THE TRAGIC PAST AND WARNS ABOUT THE FUTURE WOULD BE A SUPERB ACHIEVEMENT, IF ON AN APPROPRIATE AND ADEQUATELY SPACIOUS SITE. WHEN THE SITE CHOSEN WAS THE SMALL, PROTECTED AND CHERISHED VICTORIA TOWER GARDENS, AND THE SELECTED DESIGN ENVISAGED A THEME PARK RATHER THAN A PROFOUND MEMORIAL, THE THREE RECIPIENTS OF THIS AWARD WERE LEADERS IN CONCERNED AND COGENT OPPOSITION TO IT. SOMETIMES THE HIGHEST CULTURAL OBLIGATION IS A DUTY TO OPPOSE, AND THEIRS MERITS ACCLAMATION.

    Nathan Silver RIBA
    Awards Committee, the Westminster Society

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