Plans to build a £100m Holocaust memorial next to the Houses of Parliament represent an 'exceptionally serious intrusion' to a historic park, the High Court heard today.
The UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, set to open in 2024, will commemorate the 6 million Jewish people murdered in the Holocaust, alongside the Roma, gay people and the disabled.
The Learning Centre will also seek to reflect on subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
The plan is being opposed by groups including the London Historic Parks, Gardens Trust, and the Save Victoria Tower Gardens groups.
Richard Drabble, QC, for the London Gardens Trust, said: "The Claimant, and the parties with whom they made common cause, confirmed in the inquiry that they welcomed the principle of an appropriate memorial to the horrors of the Holocaust.
"Indeed, many of the claimant’s supporters are Jewish people whose families were either forced to flee the Holocaust or who perished in it.
"Their position was and is summed up in the phrase 'Right idea, wrong place."
"But they nevertheless opposed the location of the proposals in Victoria Tower Gardens given their numerous and fundamental objections and given that the proposals represent an exceptionally serious intrusion into a green public open space of the highest heritage significance."
The charity, whose aim is "preserving and enhancing the quality and integrity" of London’s green spaces is arguing that the memorial would harm the character of the park.
Mr. Drabble pointed out that the project would cause harm to the ‘maturing trees’ in the park and pointed to the site of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) as an alternative location.
The court heard that when the proposed memorial was announced in 2015, three central London locations including Millbank, the IWM, and Potter’s Field were being considered.
Mr. Drabble argued that the park was announced as the site despite its "inherent unsuitability" in a closed meeting and without any public consultation on its "suitability, acceptability and desirability"
The park, next to both Parliament and Westminster Abbey, forms part of Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square Conservation Area and is surrounded by heritage sites.
‘It is hard to think of a more sensitive area in terms of its cultural, historical, and heritage significance,’ said Mr. Drabble.
The memorial was green-lit last August by former minister Christopher Pincher amidst overwhelming cross-party support.
But the trust is arguing that during the application the wrong legal test on whether it would cause ‘substantial harm’ on on-site heritage assets like the Buxton Memorial, commemorating the abolition of slavery.
The proposals failed to demonstrated ‘wholly exceptional’ circumstances and whether the public benefits outweighed the substantial harm, the court heard.
Delighted that the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre has been granted planning permission.— Robert Jenrick (@RobertJenrick) July 29, 2021
This will ensure we never forget the tragedy of the Holocaust.
And will educate generations to come about where hatred and racism lead if we don’t stand against it. pic.twitter.com/M0ub9qXcfU
Mr. Drabble argued that "the visual dominance" of the Holocaust memorial would impede a visitor’s ability to appreciate the Buxton Memorial or "reflect on its significance."
"The Claimant submits that the correct application of the test would have led inevitably to the conclusion that the harm to the significance of the Buxton Memorial was “substantial”.
The barrister also argued that the use of the park as the memorial site is explicitly against London planning laws.
The hearing continues.