Westminster Council opposes national Holocaust memorial ahead of inquiry

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Westminster Council opposes national Holocaust memorial ahead of inquiry

A final decision will be made by the housing minister in the summer after a report is published

Proposed design of Westminster Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens
Proposed design of Westminster Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens

Westminster City Council has unanimously opposed plans for a national Holocaust memorial to be erected near Parliament.

The planning proposal would see the construction of a national Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens.

The council expressed its opposition to the plans – previously backed by the prime minister Boris Johnson – at a meeting Tuesday evening.

The deliberations – which ran for close to three hours – saw councillors on the local authority’s planning committee unanimously oppose the plans.

But 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.

The memorial would, according to the council’s design officer Robert Ayton, harm heritage assets and obstruct views of the Buxton Memorial and the lowers parts of the Palace of Westminster.

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

Conservative councillor and planning chairman Robert Rigby said the planning application is “to be admired” but cast doubt on the suitability of its location.

“I certainly do not dispute what its aims and aspirations are for,” he said, stressing the importance of Holocaust remembrance, but warned the proposal would “have a devastating impact on the world heritage site.”

Labour councillor David Boothroyd spoke against the proposal but 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 James Spencer warned “the spirit of the park” risks being lost under the proposal and warned against its proximity to the anti-slavery monument, the Buxton Memorial. “Both monuments need the space necessary for them to get the proper and necessary recognition that they deserve,” he said.

The vote followed a series of representations from objectors and supporters including campaigners, Holocaust educators and local residents.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, delivered a passionate defence for the memorial, which would “tell our nation’s story and stand forever as a warning of what can happen when democracies fail.”

She added: “It needs to be here in the shadow of parliament in the shadow of the greatest emblem of our democracy.”

She was followed by Bergen-Belsen survivor Mala Tribich who warned the lessons of the holocaust “are yet to be learnt.” As survivors grow older, she said, “a memorial next to parliament where decisions are made will help us to learn the lessons that we have not done so far.”

“This memorial and learning centre will be a lasting legacy so that future generations will understand why it is important to remember the holocaust, learn from the past and stand up against injustice,” she added

Speaking on behalf of the campaign group Save Victoria Tower Gardens, objector Alan Leibowitz, who began with a reference to his Jewish identity, said the application is not “worthy of its location,” prompting a round of applause from the audience. ”

“Before long the small special park will be treated in its entirety as the holocaust memorial,” the campaigner said, warning it would “become a sombre place as indeed respect for the holocaust will rightly demand.”

Similarly, the Save Victoria Tower Gardens activist Nina Grunfeld argued the debate “was not about whether the Holocaust should be remembered,” calling for “another way” to commemorate its atrocities.

The proposal would strip the park of its “character,” she said, and turn it into the “antechamber to the Holocaust Learning Centre, a civic space with the security and loss of freedom.”

Fellow objector Robert Lindsey warned against the impact of footfall, traffic and security on the “small special park” – praising its “small playground for younger children that want it.”

“I am disappointed that someone like myself who has had a very varied life … would be described as someone who didn’t like change because they raised an objection to this development,” he told the meeting.

Speaking on behalf of the Crossbench peer Baroness Ruth Deech, Trudie Gold argued the Jewish community, “including survivors,” remains divided on the memorial.

“I wish I could believe the memorial would make a difference,” she said, before arguing investment in Holocaust education in schools would have greater impact.

On Tuesday’s vote, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said: “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 former shadow chancellor Ed Balls is expected to say: “While it is regrettable that Westminster City Council does not seem able to support the project, I am very confident that the compelling case for this national memorial will be recognised when the final planning decision is taken by the Minister.”

Similarly, Lord Eric Pickles is expected to say: “The nation needs this memorial. It will stand next to Parliament as a permanent reminder that legislators always have a choice, either to protect or oppress human rights.”

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