Row over new £50m holocaust memorial as MPs say it will ruin Victoria Tower Garden

Christopher Hope
John McAslan + Partners and MASS Design Group - UK Holocaust Memorial International Design Competition

A row over where to site the new £50million national memorial to the Holocaust has pit Conservative MPs, peers and a former Lord Mayor of London against the chairman of ITV, ex-Labour Cabinet minister and a BBC newsreader.

As many as 40 MPs and peers including Lord and Lady Flight, Baroness Deech, Tory MPs Edward Leigh and Philip Lee have written to peers in the House of Lords urging them to fight the plans for the building in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament.

The idea for a National Memorial that would “be co-located with a world-class Learning Centre” to mark the Holocaust when six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War Two was first proposed in 2014.

Newsreader Natasha Kaplinsk Credit: Andrew Crowley for the Telegraph

Three possible sites were suggested: on Millbank, near Westminster; at the Imperial War Museum; and Potter’s Field, near Tower Bridge.

However in January 2016 former Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the centre would instead be in Victoria Tower Garden, a grade two listed royal park, yards from the front door of the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster.

Victoria Tower Garden is London's smallest royal park and is a popular haunt for dog walkers, joggers, families - and picnicking office workers. The park already displays August Rodin's bronze The Burghers of Calais, a statue of the Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, and a fountain commemorating the abolition of slavery.

Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects and David Morley Architects Credit: UK Holocaust Memorial International Design Competition

In a letter sent to the every member of the House of Lords, critics of the plans – which also include Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley and Sir David Brewer, a former Lord Mayor of London – say the gardens “would cease to be an amenity for ordinary people”.

The group said: “The gardens are extensively used by residents, visitors to London, and the many thousands who work nearby, including those working in the Palace of Westminster. They are an oasis of calm, enjoyed as a place of exercise, play, picnics, sunbathing and dog walking.

“All the short-listed designs for the Memorial would change irrevocably the character of VTG, which would cease to be an amenity for ordinary people.

Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad Architects Credit: UK Holocaust Memorial International Design Competition

“It is not difficult to appreciate how a Memorial and Learning Centre attracting a million visitors a year, with all the associated coach traffic, signage and, importantly, security, will be incompatible with the continued used of VTG as a public park.”

The plans are backed by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, which is chaired by Sir Peter Bazalgette, a former head of the Arts Council and the chairman of ITV.

Other board members include Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Gerald Ronson, former SNP leader Alex Salmond, former Labour Cabinet minister Ed Balls, Lord Feldman, the ex-Tory party chairman and friend of Mr Cameron, and BBC newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky. 

The 10 shortlisted designs are currently touring the country before a final decision is made by the foundation. The winning design will then go into six months of development, followed by a normal council planning process. The building should be completed by Holocaust Memorial Day, 2021.

Foster + Partners and Michal Rovner Credit: UK Holocaust Memorial International Design Competition

In a reply also to every member of the House of Lords, Sir Peter said the foundation would ensure the gardens are “preserved as a public amenity”.

He said: “In terms of handling footfall to the area, there will of course be detailed plans developed around the final design. But it is worth noting the estimate of one million visitors to the Memorial is, to a very large degree, merely a subset of the millions already visiting Westminster.”

Sir Peter said he had agreed with the Palace of Westminster that the northern part of the gardens would “be available from 2023 to act, potentially, as a builder’s yard for any of the various R&R (restoration and renewal) plans contemplated for the Palace of Westminster”.

Diamond Schmitt Architects Credit: UK Holocaust Memorial International Design Competition

Sir Peter told The Telegraph this week: “This is meant to be a national asset, a national statement of values in a nationally significant place. 

“It is perfectly legitimate for people who live locally to have a view on something that is going to be put into their amenity – but their view has got to be put alongside the views of many many people right across the country.”

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