The government is facing legal action over its decision to build a national Holocaust memorial and learning centre in a Royal Park next to Parliament.
Secretary of State of Homes, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick MP is being challenged by the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust over the process leading to a decision to build in Victoria Tower Gardens, beside the River Thames.
Jenrick’s department sought planning permission in January 2019 after former Prime Minister David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission, led by former Jewish Leadership Council chair Sir Mick Davis, recommended a national memorial somewhere central.
However a raft of heritage and environmental experts have warned that the damage and congestion that it could cause would outweigh the public benefit.
The Trust has played a leading role objecting to plans to build the memorial on “the last piece of publicly accessible land in central London”. The gardens are Grade II listed, sit alongside the Grade I listed Palace of Westminster, and lie partly within a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the world-famous Westminster Abbey.
Working with other campaign groups, including Save Victoria Tower Gardens and the Thorney Island Society, the Trust has argued that ministers should reconsider the memorial’s location, citing the “undesirable impact” of the chosen design.
A planning decision was due to be taken by Westminster Council, which said it was minded not to grant permission, until Jenrick’s department stepped in and took over.
Successive prime ministers, including Theresa May, has maintained that the memorial will be built in Victoria Towers Gardens, and the current Conservative Government even made support for the memorial a manifesto commitment.
Last month lawyers acting for the Trust argued that the environmental impact of the proposals, which could cause great damage to the root systems of the Park’s 180-year old plane trees, was not carrying sufficient weight in forthcoming call-in inquiry, which is scheduled to begin on 6 October.
“The Trust contends that the proposals… represent an exceptionally serious intrusion into a very important green public open space,” argued its lawyers.
“The Trust has made clear that that it regards a new Holocaust Memorial with Learning Centre is a good idea, but that Victoria Tower Gardens is the wrong place for what is now proposed. This view is shared with many other objectors, including Westminster City Council and Baroness Ruth Deech.”
Deech is one of several Jewish peers to have expressed her objections to the memorial proposals, arguing that the £100 million should be spent on Holocaust education instead.
While lawyers for the Trust do not object to the call-in, they have called for a Judicial Review, and the case will be heard by Mr Justice Holgate at the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division.