UNESCO adviser opposes Victoria Tower Gardens memorial over ‘visual impact’
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UNESCO adviser opposes Victoria Tower Gardens memorial over ‘visual impact’

With just weeks before an expected decision by Westminster Council in early April, the memorial’s backers were hit by a barrage of criticism.

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 battle for planning permission for the new national Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre at Victoria Tower Gardens heated up this week after several national and international cultural bodies submitted arguments against it.

With just weeks before an expected decision by Westminster Council in early April, the memorial’s backers were hit by a barrage of criticism from Historic England, the Environment Agency and a senior UNESCO advisor on World Heritage Sites.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites, an official advisory body founded by UNESCO, said the memorial would have a “massive visual impact” on the park, which is situated next to Parliament alongside the Thames River.

The letter also raises concerns about the park’s 100-year old Plane trees being killed because memorial’s proposed underground chamber would sever their root systems. Detailed sub-soil surveys beyond a metre in depth have not been published.

The Environment Agency also objected to the memorial, saying its underground structure could “adversely affect the construction and stability of the flood defence”, rendering surrounding areas susceptible to floods.

Meanwhile Historic England warned that the destruction of the archaeological treasures beneath the park could create “a clear risk of substantial harm to remains of national importance”.

The trio’s criticism comes after Royal Parks, which administers the site, lodged its concerns about the proposed monument’s “significant harmful impacts on the consequent character and function of this space”.

An outcome of David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission, led by Conservative Party chief executive and former Jewish Leadership Council chair Sir Mick Davis, the proposed memorial has been supported by the Government and 170 MPs, including Luciana Berger, the Jewish MP for Liverpool Wavertree, and Kinder Lord Alf Dubs.

However the plans have not met with unanimous support from Jewish parliamentarians, with eight Jewish peers – including Lord Monroe Palmer, Lord Michael Grade and Baroness Ruth Deech – all voicing opposition.

An ongoing consultation is being conducted by Westminster Council and a petition to “save Victoria Tower Gardens” has had 11,200 signatures, but the Holocaust Educational Trust and Holocaust Memorial Day Trust have supported the project, as have all major Jewish representative bodies.

However local groups, such as the Westminster Society, have been avidly against the memorial being located in the quiet park, pitting them against ten local rabbis who submitted a letter in support of the siting.

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