Westminster Holocaust memorial project accused of ‘unethical practices’

Emails seen by the JC shed new light on the handling of the initiative


Baroness Deech has suggested the plan to build the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Westminster has “descended into practices, unethical by Jewish or any standards” after new details emerged of discussions with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick over the project.

Emails obtained by the JC as part of a Freedom of Information request shed new light on a telephone call between Mr Jenrick, the barrister Christopher Katkowski QC, who is advising on the proposal, and Lord Pickles, co-chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation, last October.

The phone meeting on October 29 to discuss how to proceed came days before Lord Pickles announced on November 5 that Mr Jenrick’s department had now taken control of the project. Ministerial guidance says once planning decisions are called in, “Privately made representations should not be entertained unless other parties have been given the chance to consider them and comment.” The project had not been called in at the time of the call.

Last month Lord Pickles revealed to the JC that he had been visiting the Dachau concentration camp on the same day as the October meeting and did not take part in the discussions.

Emails from the Department for Communities seen by the JC confirm that Lord Pickles was alerted to the meeting three hours before it was due to take place, with Mr Jenrick’s office inviting him to speak with Mr Katkowski QC and the Secretary of State “to discuss the proposed UK Holocaust Memorial.”

Responding, Lord Pickles said he was at Dachau but added he “might be travelling so you could ring (phone number redacted).”

The ‘readout’ of the phone call sent to participants the following day lists Lord Pickles as having taken part.

But on Wednesday, Lord Pickles told the JC his “initial acceptance was before I had a detailed itinerary of my travel in Germany.” He said he was on a crowded coach at the time of the meeting “which would have made my involvement difficult.”

Asked why the readout of the meeting with Mr Jenrick suggested he was on the call, Lord Pickles said: “I would have have happily participated if I had been able to do so.”

He added: “The Secretary of State’s presence was perfectly reasonable as he is the applicant and had received himself from any planning decision. Why I am down as a participant is a mystery. I have not the slightest doubt I was not there.”

Baroness Deech has previously  accused Mr Jenrick of breaching “the guidance on planning propriety” over his management of an application to build the memorial in Westminster.

In the readout of the October 29 meeting Mr Jenrick is recorded as having said he was seeking advice on the next stages of the process because Westminster Council had “pushed back the timing of any decision on the application once again”. The readout reports that Mr Katkowski advised Mr Jenrick that one option was to have the application “called in” by the government. 

This would involve an inquiry conducted by an independent inspector who would report to a minister who had not been involved in the application. The decision would be taken by this minister.

Mr Katkowski is revealed to have then told Mr Jenrick that “in his opinion” because the memorial site was next to Parliament and was a project of “national and international significance”, this would be “a reasonable rationale for calling in the application”.

It has subsequently been announced that a planning enquiry into the project will take place later this year.

Once the Planning Inspector has made his recommendation it will be down to the Minister for Housing, Chris Pincher, to give the final verdict on the government’s own application.

Speaking in the Commons on June 24, Mr Jenrick attacked claims that he breached planning guidance over the proposed memorial as “serious and disappointing”. He added the “suggestion that in that case I used my powers as Secretary of State to call in the application” was “inaccurate.
“The Secretary of State is the applicant for the Holocaust memorial, and there is a clear Chinese wall whereby another minister in the department who has no interest in that application takes the ultimate decision.

“That is exactly what we did in that case, so I strongly urge members from all parties, as well as the media who have reported on that issue, to tread carefully.
“We should not bring something as important as our national Holocaust memorial into this party political discussion.”

But Baroness Deech said: “It is a matter of great sadness that this project has descended into practices, unethical by Jewish or any standards, designed to ram it through without taking account of the reasonable objections to the plans and to the thwarting of the original purpose of the memorial.”

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