A national Holocaust memorial centre will be built next to Parliament after a minister signed off on a recommendation that the location would present a “powerful associative message.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the decision by housing and planning minister Chris Pincher, which came after local public inquiries were held in October and November due to the application being called in for central consideration.
The proposal to build the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens to mark the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jewish people and other minorities during the Second World War faced objections from campaign groups.
But Mr. Pincher agreed with planning inspector David Morgan that the “application should be approved.”
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s decision letter said the minister “agrees with the inspector that the location next to the Palace of Westminster would offer a powerful associative message in itself, which is consistent with that of the memorial of its immediate and wider context.”
It added: “The minister of state further agrees with the inspector’s conclusion that the location of the UKHMLC adjacent to the Palace of Westminster can rightly be considered a public benefit of great importance, meriting considerable weight in the heritage and planning balance.”
The report accepted that there would be a “modest loss of open space and functionality within” Victoria Tower Gardens but found the positives of the location outweighed the negatives in building the memorial there.
The letter, written by the planning casework unit and dated July 29, said the inspector had found alternative locations not to be suitable.
Mr. Morgan found the Imperial War Museum “lacks a detailed scheme” and “carries clear potential constraints that may hamper its delivery.”
Mr. Pincher agreed with the report that two other sites – Potter’s Field adjacent to Tower Bridge and a site next to Millbank Tower – were “even more lacking in detail and feasibility, merit still lesser weight.”
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, said: “I am delighted that the minister of state has granted planning permission for the memorial.
“As I said to the inquiry, there will be something uniquely powerful about locating a memorial to the Holocaust right next to the centre of the UK’s democracy.
“Whilst the Holocaust was a particular crime against Jewish people, the Nazis also viciously persecuted Roma, gay and disabled people, and this memorial will speak to that.”
The Government has already committed that the Holocaust memorial will be free “in perpetuity” to visitors when it opens, putting it on the same footing as the UK’s most significant museums and monuments.
Susan Pollack, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, welcomed the news: “I’m speechless, quite honestly, in admiration.
“I think [the Holocaust] has to be taught again and again and again because many have a suppressed distrust against the Jews, and I think it is long overdue to leave that and to accept that we are all hoping to live a peaceful life and Britain is offering that because it is a beacon of hope for the future.
“It shows that we do not tolerate any form of racism against anyone because it has the potential to grow into an impossible situation.”
Scheduled to open in 2024, the centre is intended to be the focal point for national remembrance of the six million Jewish men, women, and children murdered in the Holocaust and all other victims of Nazi persecution, along with providing a place for reflection on “subsequent genocides.”
A total of £75 million of public money has already been put towards construction costs, with the investment due to be supplemented by £25 million from charitable donations.
A campaign group opposed to the proposals to build the memorial next to Parliament said it was consulting with lawyers before making its next move.
Baroness Ruth Deech, from the Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign, called the approval “divisive.”
“Last autumn’s public inquiry raised serious concerns about the plans’ impact on heritage and a valuable public park, as well as raising issues of flood risk, security, and damage to mature trees,” said the peer.
In a post on social media, the group said: “We are deeply disappointed, and with our lawyers are now reading the full decision and considering our next steps.”
London Gardens Trust had also raised concerns about the “loss of park land for quiet relaxation to become a crowded and ticketed civic space” while also expressing fears it would overshadow the park’s statues, including the Buxton Memorial Monument marking the abolition of slavery.
Westminster City Council, which had raised objections about the proposal, said it “respected” the minister’s decision.
A council spokesman said: “This application was called in by the Secretary of State in November 2019 in light of the scheme’s national significance.
“As part of the process, the council’s planning sub-committee gave its views on the scheme in February 2020 following an extensive public consultation.
“We note, and respect, the minister’s decision.”