High court quashes planning permission for Westminster Holocaust memorial - Museums Association

High court quashes planning permission for Westminster Holocaust memorial

Holocaust institutions express disappointment as judge rules that development does not comply with existing legislation
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
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An artist's impression of the memorial and learning centre
An artist's impression of the memorial and learning centre Department for Levelling Up, Houses and Communities

Plans to build a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in the heart of Westminster have been quashed by the high court following a legal challenge.

The development was due to be built in Victoria Tower Gardens, a small public park next to Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster.  

The project got the green light last year after the UK Government’s then-planning minister Chris Pincher overturned an earlier decision by Westminster Council to refuse planning permission for the site.

Describing the memorial as the “right idea in the wrong place”, campaigners argued that the process to approve permission was “flawed”.

Plans for the memorial were first announced by former prime minister David Cameron in 2016. Designed by a team led by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, the memorial would have included a sculpture of 23 bronze fins leading visitors to an underground learning centre.

The planning application was opposed by a number of groups, including London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust, which led the legal challenge, along with Save Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster City Council, The Thorney Island Society and Baroness Deech.

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At a hearing in February, Richard Drabble QC, acting for London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust, argued that the memorial did not comply with a 1900 legal act prohibiting Victoria Tower Gardens to be used as anything other than a garden open to the public. He also argued that the development would negatively impact other monuments in the park, harm trees and pose a flood risk.  

Drabble said that an “unlawful approach” had been taken to considering other sites for the memorial. Alternative locations for the memorial included land owned by the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth.

The government argued that the case should be dismissed and that no error in law had been made.

In a ruling on Friday 8 April, Mrs Justice Thornton said the trust’s case had succeeded in relation to its arguments over the 1900 law, which she said “imposes an enduring obligation” to retain the land as a public garden.

Barbara Weiss, architect and co-founder of the campaign group Save Victoria Tower Gardens, said: “We are very pleased that planning permission for the Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens has been quashed. We have argued for many years that the government is pursuing the right idea in the wrong place. Today’s judgment sends a strong message about the protection of public parks.”

The government is understood to have submitted a request to appeal the ruling. A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Houses and Communities said it would “study the judgment carefully and consider our next steps”.

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Holocaust institutions have expressed disappointment at the ruling. Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “This is 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 [are] left unchecked. This memorial will stand as a reminder for generations to come.”

Olivia Marks-Waldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “We are surprised by the high court decision and hope that this does not preclude or overshadow the burning need for the national memorial.”

Around £75m of public money has already been put towards the memorial’s construction costs; a further £25m was due to be raised via private sources.

Comments (1)

  1. Michael Page says:

    What I know of the scheme the proposed museum would be housed in a giant underground concrete box located under the Gardens, once complete all that would be visible would be the bronze fins at one end of the Gardens. The box would be water tight, and the mature plane trees to the perimeter unaffected by the underground structure.
    The underground car park beneath the Grade 1 listed buildings of the Palace of Westminster is significantly deeper than what is proposed here, and who knows that is there?

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