The most commented-upon article on The London Society blog is the 2017 piece by the Thorney Island Society about the proposed Holocaust Memorial by in Victoria Tower Gardens by Parliament. Here, Lucy Peck provides an update on developments. If you would like to comment, use the space beneath this posting to give your views.
In 2017 we, The Thorney Island Society, wrote about the threat to the small park south of the Palace of Westminster. At that time the project was at the competition stage. Since then a design has been selected: David Adjaye and Ron Arad’s 23 large bronze fins, which give access to an underground Learning Centre. There are many flaws in the scheme, but what our campaigning group is most concerned about is the size of the project dwarfing the whole Gardens, the loss of open space (26% of the grass area), which is against national, London and Westminster planning policy, the threat to nearly 40 large plane trees, the diminution of the children’s playground, and the side-lining of the Buxton Memorial Fountain, which celebrates the end of slavery in the British Empire. Other heritage assets will also be negatively affected.
Following the application for planning permission by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, there was unprecedented activity on the Planning Portal, with an astonishing number (over 1,000) of objections, often passionate and well-thought-out. This was countered by MHCLG, which commissioned a PR company to carry out sessions in various communities in which a biased presentation was followed up by short-cut access to the portal via a very simplistic questionnaire: ‘What do you think of the plans for the new UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre’ and ‘What do you think about the proposed location next to the Houses of Parliament in Victoria Tower Gardens?’ Most respondents, who could live anywhere in London or even further afield, inevitably gave one-word, positive answers.
The Foundation says that it is their ‘stated ambition’ that the Gardens are ‘preserved as a public amenity’, but it will be a very different sort of public amenity: not a quiet garden, but a civic space freighted with the horrors of the Holocaust, in which people will feel uncomfortable eating their sandwiches or taking exercise.
London cannot afford to lose this tranquil small park, not even for this worthy cause. It is the only significant riverside green space in central London that is not separated from the river by a main road, and is much used by local residents, office workers and tourists.
Last year and subsequently there have been developments: The two Chairs of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation, Lord Pickles and Ed Balls, wrote to the Leader of Westminster City Council accusing the planning officers of giving undue weight to objections on the Portal. Following the Westminster Leader’s robust rebuttal they wrote to the Secretary of State asking him to call in (his own) application. This was done, just hours before the purdah period for the last general election. The Westminster planning committee met in January, in order to decide whether to agree to the planning officer’s report recommending refusal, and there was an agonised but unanimous decision to support refusal. We are now preparing for the Public Inquiry, currently supposed to start on May 27th.
For more information about this threat and a link to a crowd funding site where we are trying to raise money for legal fees, please go to http://tinyurl.com/VictoriaTowerGardens
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