Ian Austin

It is taking far too long to build the Westminster Holocaust Memorial

HS2, Battersea Power Station and the Elizabeth Line have all made swift progress in contrast

March 02, 2023 15:23

HS2 is the biggest and most challenging infrastructure project in Europe. Hundreds of miles of track and tunnels have to be built in beautiful countryside which has caused great controversy and massive local opposition.

Nevertheless, over the last few years, Parliament has scrutinised and passed the legislation. Planning has been sorted out in dozens of counties, cities, towns and villages between London, Birmingham and Crewe. Building started at over 300 sites in 2020. Four miles of tunnel have already been dug.

Battersea Power Station is Europe’s biggest brick building. Over the last decade it has been transformed into hundreds of apartments, restaurants, bars and offices.

Crossrail was Europe’s largest construction project. Forty sites. Ten new stations. Twenty-six miles of new tunnels.

It took longer and cost more than it should have done, but the first trains were running eight years after work started.

The whole Elizabeth Line done and dusted six years later.

If all that is possible, how on earth can the National Holocaust Memorial be taking so long?
In 2016, David Cameron promised it would be finished by “the end of 2017”.

Yet today, the planning process has still not yet been sorted out and construction work has not begun.

I know it is a difficult and complicated project, but it is not as difficult or complicated as Battersea Power Station.

I understand as well that some local residents objected and the local council refused planning permission but the planning process can’t have been as controversial as HS2.

I make no criticism of Lord Pickles who chairs the memorial’s Foundation Advisory Board and members of his team who are deeply committed to Holocaust commemoration and have devoted decades to fighting antisemitism. I am sure they are as frustrated as anyone. I know Eric is desperate to get on with it.

Nor do I criticise Michael Gove, who is now in charge of the department responsible for the project. I know how committed he is to the project and how hard he works to support organisations educating people about the Holocaust.

He is one of the government’s most dynamic and energetic ministers. He gets thing done in every government job he’s had. If anyone can sort this out with the urgent action and daily meetings that are needed, it is him.

The government introduced legislation last week to clear the obstacles, sort out the planning problems and get the project underway.

But we have to ask how it is possible that a project being overseen by the department that is also responsible for planning policy could have run into trouble on planning grounds in the first place. And when it did run into trouble, why was the legislation announced last week not introduced years ago?

Or even last summer when the government lost its planning appeal?

I know some people object and there are legitimate debates about its contents and message but there is clearly widespread support for the project.

There is cross-party backing too. I help lead an All-Party Group with dozens of MPs and Peers who will do all they can to support it.

If David Cameron promised that the whole process would be complete inside two years, the government must surely now be able to get it finished by the end of next year at the very latest.

Survivors of the Holocaust who should have been the most important people at its official opening are sadly no longer with us. More than 100 of these heroes have died in the past two years.

At the end of January, I cancelled a speech in Parliament to pay my respects at Zigi Shipper BEM’s funeral. He was a great man and I was so honoured to know him and count him as a personal friend. He devoted decades to coming to places like Dudley where young people sat spellbound as he taught them about history’s greatest crime. They listened and they understood when he delivered his message: “do not hate”.

But if anyone should have seen this memorial completed and opened it was Zigi.

Let’s get it sorted out so those of his fellow survivors who are still with us can be there.

Ian Austin is a member of the House of Lords

March 02, 2023 15:23

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive