Westminster councillors vote unanimously to oppose plans for Holocaust Memorial Centre by parliament

They agree planning application would be 'inappropriate' for the location - despite Shoah educators urging them to support it


Lord Pickles and Ed Balls have reacted to Westminster City Council opposing the plans for a Holocaust Memorial Centre by parliament, saying the "regrettable" decision will not dampen their efforts to get it built.

The pair, who co-chair UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, issued statements after the council's planning committee registered its opposition to plans for a memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Park Gardens.

At a meeting on Tuesday, council officers described concerns about the impact building the centre would have on the gardens' trees and nearby Buxton Memorial. They also noted the number of visitors to the area was predicted to more than treble because of the memorial.

Around 40 members of the public watched a livestream of proceedings of the meeting at the council's Victoria Street headquarters, near the site.

Though the council's decision has no effect as the Government had already "called in" the plans to be heard by an independent inquiry, it will inform the council's participation in the inquiry.

All six members of the planning committee voted to agree with council officers' recommendation to reject the plans.

Lord Pickles said: "The key question is the national importance of the Memorial and Learning Centre, which underlines the wisdom of calling-in the application so that the Government can properly consider its national importance.

“The nation needs this Memorial. It will stand next to Parliament as a permanent reminder that legislators always have a choice, either to protect or oppress human rights.

“I’m encouraged by the Government’s and the Official Opposition’s full commitment to the Memorial, and its location.

"The case for a National Holocaust Memorial next to Parliament is a strong one. The choice of location is in many ways the point."

Mr Balls said: "It is now clear from all the representations that have been made over recent months, that there is deep and widespread support, in Parliament across all the political parties and more widely across the UK, for a national Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens.

"And while it is regrettable that Westminster City Council does not seem able to support the project, I am very confident that the compelling case for this national memorial will be recognised when the final planning decision is taken by the Minister.

"Seventy-five years on from the liberation of the Nazi death camps of Europe, it is deeply distressing that there are still people who try to diminish the gravity of what happened, or even try to deny that this systematic attempt to destroy an entire people actually took place at all.

“But in the decades to come, when survivors of the Holocaust are no longer with us to recount their experiences, the Memorial will ensure that their suffering and the terrible tragedy that they experienced, will never be forgotten."

Before the vote, supporters of the plan, including Holocaust educators who spoke of the importance of commemorating the Shoah as there are fewer and fewer survivors to share their stories, urged councillors to back it.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said the memorial would "tell our nation’s story and stand forever as a warning of what can happen when democracies fail" and should be "in the shadow of the greatest emblem of our democracy".

Polish-born survivor Mala Tribich recounted surviving in a ghetto, having family members murdered and finally being liberated by British forces at Bergen Belsen.

"We have yet to learn the lessons from the Holocaust. Prejudice and discrimination still live on," she told the meeting.

"A memorial next to Parliament... will be a lasting legacy so that future generations will understand why it's important to learn from the Holocaust and stand up against injustice."

But those watching the livestream during the meeting applauded those who spoke against the plans.

Alan Leibowitz, from the Save the Victoria Tower Park Gardens campaign, said the gardens were too small for the memorial, and dismissed the "disingenious link with parliamentary democracy" the proposal's supporters had given for putting it there.

"This small special park will be treated exclusively as a Holocaust Memorial," he said.

"Casual enjoyment for normal recreation will cease. It will become a sombre place, as as respect for the Holocaust will rightly demand."

Nina Grunfeld, also from the campaign, described how her parents came to Britain as refugees from the Nazis and her mother would walk through all the parks in central London to soothe herself.

She said parks were "absolutely vital for mental wellbeing, not least for children".

Objector Trudy Gold, a leading Holocaust educator, told the committee the plan was "seriously flawed and undemocratic", adding she doubted it would "make any difference, whether it is near parliament or not".

She noted there were more than 300 Holocaust memorials and five others in Britain.

"This is where it gets incredibly sad. It seems that, when there is economic, social and political dislocation, all of the [education] efforts come to nothing and have very little impact...

"I believe there is no public interest in setting a memorial in Victoria Tower Park Gardens that can outweigh the drawbacks of the design and the location."

She added: "The Jewish community, including survivors, is divided on this issue."

Committee chairman Robert Rigby said: "This application could be appropriate if it were in the right location."

Labour councillor David Boothroyd, who sits on the committee, described the enormity of the task he felt having to judge the application and began welling up with tears as he described how hard he tried to see how it might fit with planning law but ultimately concluded it could not.

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