High Court blocks Westminster Holocaust memorial

The judge said there was an “enduring obligation to retain the new garden land as a public garden”


A High Court judge has blocked the planned national Holocaust Memorial next to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, quashing the approval given by Housing Minister Christopher Pincher last year.

The London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust succeeded in its legal challenge to the £100 million project to erect a memorial and learning centre in the political heart of the capital.

Mrs Justice Thornton ruled that according to legislation dating back to 1900, there was “an enduring obligation to retain the new garden land as a public garden and integral part of the existing Victoria Tower Gardens”.

But she did not accept the argument that siting the memorial there would have harmed other heritage interests in the proposed location. The idea for a memorial came from a national commission set up by Prime Minister David Cameron which reported in 2015.

Westminster City Council rejected planning permission but the project was approved after a planning inquiry.

But Mrs Justice Thornton said building would represent an “exceptionally serious intrusion into a green public open space of the highest heritage significance.” As a result of the failure to address the provisions of the 1900 Act, the judge said, “The potential impediment to delivery of the scheme is a material consideration which was not considered at the inquiry.”

The Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies had backed the project but prominent Jewish opponents to the location included Baroness Ruth Deech.

Barbara Weiss, an architect who campaigned against the location of the memorial, said: “This was the result we were looking for. It vindicates the importance of keeping parks as parks. While Victoria Tower Gardens is the wrong location, we support the construction of a Holocaust memorial but it needs to be at another location.”

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue said: "We know from the resurgence of anti-semitism in countries abroad with powerful Holocaust museums, that buildings do not change minds: it will be far better for the UK to use the £100 million to have an education programme in schools nationally than a London-centric memorial.

"As the son of a survivor, I am 100 per cent behind remembering and learning, but museums only attract those already well-disposed, and instead we instead need to spread Holocaust awareness to everyone throughout the country."

Baroness Deech commented: "We won the appeal against planning permission for the Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens, largely on the basis that the 1900 statute prohibiting use of the gardens for anything else was overlooked. This is great news. No doubt the government will appeal, but this is a strong victory."

But Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said it was "very disappointing news. Holocaust survivors are elderly, and their numbers are dwindling - time is of the essence. 

"Many hope to see the opening of the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre standing proudly next to Parliament, serving as a warning from history of what can happen when antisemitism and hate is left unchecked. This memorial will stand as a reminder for generations to come.”

The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: “This decision is an unfortunate setback for the work of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation and for our country’s commitment to teaching the essential lessons of the Holocaust. With hateful rhetoric on the rise across the world our sacred responsibility to live up to that commitment is more urgent and vital than ever.

"The potential educational impact of placing this memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the seat of our country’s democracy, greatly outweighs any of the planning objections. I am grateful for the government’s continued commitment to the memorial and remain confident that it will go ahead as planned.”

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