MPs and peers have backed the destruction of one of London's most poetic parks

The letter supporting the creation of the new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre writes off Victoria Tower Gardens as a place of leisure

February 25, 2019 13:26

Last week, as has been widely reported, approximately 13 per cent of all MPs and Peers signed up to an All-Party Parliamentary Group letter supporting the creation of the new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre. Few would or could disagree with the letter. Its content was not controversial, and, in this fractious day and age, finding reasons to agree with colleagues can be very welcome, particularly in relation to fighting the current resurgence of antisemitism.

In the present chaotic Brexit climate, it could however have been all too easy for these very busy Parliamentarians to overlook the Trojan horse concealed in the letter.

How many of those who signed, did so in the full knowledge that they were also supporting the irreversible destruction of one of London’s most poetic parks, the permanent obliteration of protected views of Parliament, and the potential demise of a large number of 100-year-old trees?

The haste with which this list was published, to great fanfare, speaks of a growing nervousness within the UKHMF regarding the soundness of its position.  Following closely on the submission of the Royal Parks’ unequivocal and well-argued condemnation of the chosen site, rather than acting as a rebuttal to the Royal Parks’ arguments, the letter is an obvious attempt by UKHMF to bolster, with renewed political and PR muscle, its longstanding message that the proposal is a “fait accompli”.

It is by now abundantly clear that Victoria Tower Gardens has been totally written off as a place of leisure by the UKHMF.  It is instead the sacrificial lamb whose immolation, in this case totally “ultra vires”, has become the unquestionable price of this project’s delivery.  

Even more perverse, and much as the memorial’s architect himself recently stated, in a resounding gaffe, is the realisation that the orchestrated loss of the most appreciated qualities of this park, its historic beauty and its tranquillity, is in reality a corollary of the design concept itself.  It is now confirmed that disruption of the park, and alienation of its core users, is the sad strategy devised to heighten the experience of the new Memorial.

While the heat of the debate increases, the wheels of Westminster’s planning machine are grinding systematically through the application process. So far, a totally exceptional number (nearly 700) of lengthy, well-reasoned objections, from both the general public and the Statutory Consultees, is piling up, a rich mix of planning policy comments, material considerations, and personal heartfelt expressions of sadness and outrage.

Among these wonderful individual voices pleading for the park to be spared are also those of many Jews, sharing their family histories and memories of Victoria Tower Gardens. Most of these are people who believe that the proposal does not have to be at the expense of the integrity and memory of the park; others argue instead that the proposal itself could be much more ambitious and memorable on a larger, more suitable site.

Both are right and should be listened to.  This will no doubt be the last opportunity to build a lasting tribute to the victims of the Holocaust – it must not be squandered.   

Barbara Weiss runs an architectural practice in London



February 25, 2019 13:26

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