Holocaust memorial to be built next to Parliament after ministers override local opposition

·7-min read
An artist's impression of the new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, which will be located in Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster - PA
An artist's impression of the new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, which will be located in Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster - PA

A national Holocaust memorial will be built next to Parliament after ministers overrode local opposition to approve the project.

Chris Pincher, the housing minister, signed off on the £100 million proposal on Thursday to build the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, which will be located in Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster.

It will stand as a focal point of national remembrance to the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust, as well all other victims of Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides.

The centre is due to open in 2024 and will comprise 23 large bronze sculptures and an underground learning centre.

It will be built using £75 million of taxpayer funds and £25 million from charitable donations, and will be free to the public “in perpetuity”.

Visiting the site with Holocaust survivors on Thursday, Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, said he hoped the memorial would be visited by millions of people annually and help to “educate and inform future generations about the horrors of the Holocaust”.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has also praised the move, stating that there was “something uniquely powerful about locating a memorial to the Holocaust right next to the centre of the UK’s democracy”.

Holocaust Memorial Centre - Yui Mok/PA
Holocaust Memorial Centre - Yui Mok/PA
UK Holocaust Memorial - Yui Mok/PA
UK Holocaust Memorial - Yui Mok/PA

The decision overturned a previous ruling by Westminster Council, which last year decided to reject the plans in the face of local opposition and claims that it contravened planning rules on size, design and location.

While the plan for a national memorial was first set in motion by David Cameron in 2013, the location has been criticised by some groups, including Historic England, on the grounds there are believed to be important archaeological remains located at the site.

The fiercest opposition has come from the local resident group Save Victoria Tower Gardens (SVTC), which claims that the open space in the area should be protected as a local amenity.

The group also claims that the need for additional security would add to congestion.

Threatening to appeal the decision on Thursday, Baroness Deech, a crossbench peer and member of SVTC, told the BBC: “We passionately believe that the Holocaust should be remembered, but we believe that this ill-considered and damaging proposal will do a disservice to victims and survivors, and little to enhance understanding and respect.”

However, Mr Pincher said the significance of the memorial far outweighed the loss of space, with Whitehall sources claiming on Thursday the site would take up just seven per cent of space in the park.

They also pointed out that Mr Pincher’s decision was fully aligned with the planning inspector, who said that the “application should be approved”, and that other proposed sites had been found to be less suitable.

In a letter confirming the plans would go ahead, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that the location next to the Palace of Westminster would ensure it “can rightly be considered a public benefit of great importance, meriting considerable weight in the heritage and planning balance”.

Entrance to the UK Holocaust Memorial  - PA
Entrance to the UK Holocaust Memorial - PA

Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “As the Holocaust moves from living memory to history, there could not be a more important time to build this memorial, in the shadow of Parliament, as a reminder for generations to come of what happened when anti-semitism and hatred were able to flourish.

“The Holocaust is part of our shared history that everyone should know about and remember, and I’m proud that this UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre is going to be built at the very heart of our democracy.”

'This memorial sends a clear signal of Britain's zero-tolerance approach to anti-semitism'

By Robert Jenrick, Communities Secretary

Last January, before the pandemic struck, I had the privilege of attending the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on behalf of the Government.

It was a poignant moment; a chance to reflect on the unfathomable evil of one of the darkest chapters in human history. But it was heartening to see leaders of all faiths and nations gathering to remember the Holocaust and renew our promise to the victims and survivors - that this cannot, and will not, happen again.

I was struck by the fact that the gathering was most likely one of the final major events held in the presence of eyewitnesses of the Holocaust. It has been an honour to meet and listen to remarkable survivors, such as Sir Ben Helfgott, Lily Ebert and Susan Pollack, with whom I spent time this week. But as each year passes, fewer survivors of the Holocaust remain with us and the next generation will not benefit from their direct testimony.

That makes it more important than ever for us to find a permanent way both to remember the Holocaust and to educate those who follow us in its horrors, and where anti-semitism and hatred of any kind ultimately leads if we fail to stand against it.

I am pleased to announce a new legacy in the form of a new national Holocaust Memorial Learning Centre located at Victoria Tower Gardens – next to the Houses of Parliament, physically and figuratively at the centre of our national life.

Not only will the Memorial honour the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust, and other victims of Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides, but it will be testament to the extraordinary resilience of those Holocaust survivors that made the United Kingdom their home.

In a world where Holocaust denial, distortion and revisionism is on the increase, we have a duty to provide the unvarnished facts and educate and inform ourselves, our children and grandchildren.

We have a duty to ensure that we understand how this evil was allowed to happen and the Memorial will be an opportunity for all of us to reflect on whether more could have been done by policymakers and society as a whole. Those of us fortunate enough to play a part in the decisions of today’s uncertain world, will walk past it every day as we enter Parliament.

The cancer of anti-semitism remains with us, as ever. The recent conflict between Israel and Gaza saw the Community Security Trust record over 628 of anti-semitic incidents from May 8 to June 7 this year. As Communities Secretary, I am particularly disturbed by this and I am determined to work with colleagues in Government to fight this head-on.

One of our most important weapons against anti-semitism is education, which underlines why we need a national Holocaust Memorial. We are one of the only leading capitals in Western countries without such a memorial and Thursday’s announcement sends a clear signal of our zero-tolerance approach to anti-semitism in Britain.

The Holocaust Memorial Learning Centre is something that we owe to a great, if sadly passing generation, and to generations yet to come.

Its location is a reminder of our central values of liberty, equality and tolerance - sending a clear signal of our commitment to never forget the terrible lessons of the Holocaust, and honour the victims who lost their lives to that brutal and evil ideology.

Next to existing representations of struggles for justice and equality, including the Buxton memorial and the Emmeline Pankhurst statue, it will be in its rightful place.

And it will serve as a continual reminder to us all of why we need to make a stand against anti-semitism, racism and hatred, whenever and wherever we find it. Work will commence later this year, and I look forward to its opening, hopefully by those remarkable survivors whose message is simply, never again.

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