Communities secretary: Government ‘implacably’ committed to Westminster memorial

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Communities secretary: Government ‘implacably’ committed to Westminster memorial

Robert Jenrick spoke after Westminster City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday evening to oppose the proposal for a national Holocaust memorial and learning centre

Victoria Tower Gardens in Westminster, London. Photo credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Victoria Tower Gardens in Westminster, London. Photo credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

The Government remains “implacably” committed to building a Holocaust memorial and learning centre near Parliament, the communities secretary Robert Jenrick said on Tuesday.

Jenrick spoke as Westminster City Council voted unanimously to oppose the proposal backed by the prime minister Boris Johnson.

A final decision will be made by the housing minister – now Esther McVey – in the summer. It will follow the publication of a report by the planning inspector after a public inquiry – to which Tuesday’s vote will be submitted.

“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 six million Jewish men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust and all other victims of Nazi persecution,” Jenrick said in a statement.

He 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.”

The council deliberations – which ran for close to three hours – saw councillors on the local authority’s planning committee unanimously oppose the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens.

The Grade-II* listed park falls partly within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Westminster.

Councillors warned the application would harm heritage assets, obstruct views of the Buxton Memorial and the lowers parts of the Palace of Westminster, cause the loss of open, public green space and incur possible environmental damage.

Speaking out against the application, Labour councillor David Boothroyd welled up, as he hit out against the council’s “iniquitous position … [of] having to decide whether to disappoint people who are making points about their local park with perfect sincerity, or to refuse the Holocaust memorial centre within a fortnight of Holocaust Memorial Day.”

Conservative councillor Robert Rigby, chairman of planning, said the council would have “very likely” accepted plans to build a “much smaller” memorial in the park.

Stressing the role of remembrance, Rigby said that Westminster City Council is behind the “principle” of a memorial to the Holocaust in central London but cited heritage concerns.”We absolutely understand the emotion and the depth of feeling that this issue engenders, and we think it is right that the secretary of state will make the final decision on this application,” he said.

But he added: “However, 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 vote followed a series of representations from objectors and supporters including Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Speaking in favour of the proposal, the Bergen Belsen survivor Mala Tribich warned the lessons of the holocaust “are yet to be learnt.” As survivors grow older, she told the meeting, “a memorial next to parliament where decisions are made will help us to learn the lessons that we have not done so far.”

But the Save Victoria Tower Gardens activist Nina Grunfeld said it would strip the park of its “character” and turn it into the “antechamber to the Holocaust Learning Centre, a civic space with the security and loss of freedom.”

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