Citing impact to surroundings, London council votes against Holocaust memorial
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Citing impact to surroundings, London council votes against Holocaust memorial

Westminster city council says while it fully supports idea of monument, it objects to proposed location in busy riverside park; UNESCO pans plan to build on heritage site

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

People sit in the sun in Victoria Tower Gardens backdropped by the Houses of Parliament in London, August 28, 2019. (Matt Dunham/AP)
People sit in the sun in Victoria Tower Gardens backdropped by the Houses of Parliament in London, August 28, 2019. (Matt Dunham/AP)

London’s Westminster City Council on Tuesday unanimously objected to a national Holocaust memorial center in a park next to the Houses of Parliament, citing concerns over how the project would impact the park and surrounding area.

At a meeting to debate the issue the council said it is worried about “existing monuments and the adjacent world heritage site of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey,” damage to trees, and “loss of valuable open, public green space in a very busy and popular location,” the Guardian newspaper reported.

The memorial and education center is planned for Victoria Tower Gardens alongside the River Thames. The area already has other existing memorials including the Buxton Memorial for the slave trade.

Robert Rigby, the council’s chair of planning, told the meeting “we’re completely behind the principle of having a Memorial and Learning Centre in central London to commemorate those that lost their lives in the most heinous crimes of the 20th century.”

“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,” he said according to the report.

Responding to the vote Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said in a statement that the British 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,” he said.

The plan has been panned by UNESCO, Historic England and The Royal Parks. The gardens are a UNESCO heritage site and officials say the memorial could obstruct the view from the gardens. Opponents have called for the Holocaust memorial to be located in a more appropriate location.

Over 10,000 people have signed a petition for the memorial to be relocated, the newspaper said.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of Holocaust Education Trust (courtesy)

However, Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, told the council meeting that close proximity to parliament would “tell our nation’s story and stand forever as a warning of what can happen when democracies fail.”

“It needs to be here in the shadow of parliament in the shadow of the greatest emblem of our democracy,” she said according to a report from the London Jewish News.

Mala Tribich, a Holocaust survivor, also addressed the meeting, saying the memorial would be a “lasting legacy so that future generations will understand why it’s important to learn from the Holocaust and stand up against prejudice.”

A final word on the matter will be taken by Minister of State for Housing and Planning Esther McVey, the Guardian said. McVey plans to hold a public inquiry into the proposal and a decision is expected later this year.

In August London Mayor Sadiq Khan called on Westminster City Council, to approve the memorial saying it would “make a powerful national statement,” the UK Jewish News reported at the time.

Some $91 million in public funds has been pledged to cover the memorial’s estimated $124 million cost.

JTA contributed to this report.

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