Sir Ben Helfgott raised concerns about lack of progress on delivering UK Holocaust memorial

The leading Holocaust educator had a conversation with Lord Pickles


Sir Ben Helfgott raised concerns about the government’s lack of progress on bringing forward the proposed Holocaust memorial, a peer has said.

Lord Pickles, co-chair of the body overseeing the new £100m memorial, said the late pioneer for Holocaust education spoke with him privately.

The Conservative peer told the Lords on Thursday: “He [Sir Ben] was a leading light in Holocaust remembrance and was a strong advocate for the site in Victoria Tower Gardens.

“In point of fact, the last conversation that I had with Ben was his concerns that the government and the opposition might not fulfil their promise.”

Concerns have been growing from community figures about the lack of progress on delivering the proposed memorial, which is due to be located on the Grade II listed Victoria Tower Gardens beside the Houses of Parliament.

Planning consent for the Holocaust Memorial next to parliament was granted in July 2021. However, the decision was quashed by the High Court in April 2022 due to historic legislation that requires the garden to be maintained as a garden open to the public.

The Holocaust Memorial Bill, which was introduced to Parliament earlier this year, aims to update Victorian legislation and progress the building of the monument in Victoria Tower Gardens.

Lord Pickles later told the JC that he had the conversation with Sir Ben last year. He stressed that Sir Ben "was very much involved" in bringing forward plans for the memorial.

He also said in the Lords that “talking was over” and it was “time for action” on bringing forward the bill.

During a debate in the House of Lords on Thursday about the memorial, crossbench peer Lord Austin of Dudley also said there was an urgent need to build it now before more survivors of the Shoah die.

He told the chamber: “I want to take this opportunity to urge the minister to do everything she possibly can to speed up progress so it is open so other Holocaust survivors like Sir Ben, who tragically will not get to see it completed, will be able to be the guests of honour at the opening.” 

But Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lee of Trafford said the plans should not be "rammed through".

He said: "It is very sad that a memorial to such an appalling crime against humanity should controversially be rammed through against the views of the Royal Parks, Westminster City Council, local residents and so many others.

"I implore the Government to think again and preserve and protect our very precious green space."

Independent crossbencher Baroness Deech, who is honorary president of the National Jewish Assembly, criticised the lack of consultation on the memorial.

She said: "All efforts to open dialogue and to have discussions and round tables have been met with silence, and sometimes abuse."

Lady Deech added: "Victoria Tower Gardens is a green enclave, and the dangers of digging down two storeys with pile drivers, which could cause unimaginable damage, have not been taken on board when there are decent alternative sites with as much dignity and more space. I speak for a number of Holocaust survivors in this."

Housing minister Baroness Scott of Bybrook reassured peers of the government’s commitment to the project and added: “Victoria Tower Gardens is the most fitting site in terms of historical, emotional and political significance in its ability to offer the greatest potential impact and visibility for the project.”

Sir Ben passed away last week at the age of 93 and tributes have flooded in from across the Jewish community. 

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