Royal Parks wades into row over Westminster Holocaust memorial plans
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Royal Parks wades into row over Westminster Holocaust memorial plans

Charity hits out against planned museum in Victoria Tower Gardens at a 'highly sensitive' heritage site

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

Proposals for a Holocaust memorial outside Parliament have been criticised for their potentially “harmful” impact on a central London park.

The new landmark, which will also feature a learning centre, is planned for Victoria Tower Gardens on Millbank, alongside the River Thames.

It will be dedicated to the six million Jewish men, women and children and other victims murdered by the Nazis.

A planning application for the memorial is currently being considered by Westminster City Council.

But The Royal Parks, a charity which looks after Victoria Tower Gardens, said it did not support the planning application “given the impact it will have on a popular public amenity space in an area of the capital with few public parks”.

In a letter to Westminster City Council’s planning team, The Royal Parks described the gardens as a “highly sensitive location in planning and heritage terms”.

It said the small triangular green space is a Grade II Registered Park located next to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament – collectively designated as a World Heritage Site.

The Holocaust memorial’s design features 23 large bronze fin structures that visitors can walk among, leading up to the underground learning centre.

The Royal Parks said it “strongly supports” the principle of the project but believes its scale and design would have “significant harmful impacts” on the “character and function” of the park.

It warned the learning centre would “fundamentally change the historic character and associated vistas in and out of the park”.

“The structure will dominate the park and eclipse the existing listed memorials which are nationally important in their own right,” the letter added.

Concern was expressed over the negative impact construction would have on the park’s biodiversity and its accessibility to the public.

“The gardens are public open space and we would not wish to close such a large area, or the possibility of the entire park, to visitors for the three years of its construction,” The Royal Parks wrote.

The charity said the expected one million visitors to the memorial in its first year would create “queues and congestion”.

“Overall, the sombre nature of the memorial, the large structure and the necessary security measure… will change the nature of what is currently a relaxed park alongside a unique riverside location,” it said.

More than 10,000 people have signed an online petition on Change.org urging the Government to reconsider the memorial’s location.

Clare Annamalai, a local resident and member of the Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign group, said: “We don’t think you should build in parks and particularly small historic parks of this kind.

She said campaigners were “absolutely not opposed” to the memorial idea but feared current plans would “completely dominate” the park.

“It’s both a local amenity, but also a national heritage and environmental issue,” she said.

“The scale… is deliberately obtrusive because it’s intended to be shocking and attention-grabbing,” she added.

Ms Annamalai said a smaller memorial without the learning centre would be more suitable, or campaigners have proposed moving it to Westminster’s College Green or the Imperial War Museum.

She claimed the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, which is leading the project, was being “very opaque” in revealing why Victoria Tower Gardens was chosen over other locations.

The Royal Parks, which has responsibility for managing eight of London’s Royal Parks on behalf of the Government, said the location was chosen before the charity was formed.

Its letter claimed: “Ministers have made clear that there is no role for the charity in the approval process.”

Architect Sir David Adjaye is leading the memorial’s design team alongside Ron Arad Architects as Memorial Architect, and Gustafson Porter + Bowman as Landscape Architect.

Sir David was criticised after saying in an interview this month that “disrupting the pleasure of being in a park is key to the thinking”.

In a letter published in the Times newspaper on Saturday he responded: “The concerns for the preservation of the park and its purpose are understandable and have been heard.

“We have no desire or intent to diminish the refuge and joy that this public place provides.”

He said architects were working to ensure that 90% of the original park is retained.

A spokesman for Westminster City Council said: “The council can’t comment on outstanding applications.”

The Press Association has approached the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, for comment.

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