Court denies right to appeal ruling against planned Holocaust memorial
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Court denies right to appeal ruling against planned Holocaust memorial

The quest to build a national memorial and learning centre next to Parliament has suffered another blow after ministers were told they cannot appeal an earlier ruling against it.

Protesters outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London ahead of a hearing regarding the UK Holocaust Memorial. The London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust is opposed to a new UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre being built in Victoria Tower Gardens, a small triangular Grade II-listed park next to Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster. Issue date: Tuesday February 22, 2022.
Protesters outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London ahead of a hearing regarding the UK Holocaust Memorial. The London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust is opposed to a new UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre being built in Victoria Tower Gardens, a small triangular Grade II-listed park next to Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster. Issue date: Tuesday February 22, 2022.

The British Government’s quest to build a new national Holocaust memorial and learning centre next to Parliament has suffered another blow after ministers were told they could not appeal an earlier ruling against it.

The news was welcomed by campaigners against the planned monument and education site in Victoria Tower Gardens, a small Royal Park along the River Thames, but slammed by many Jewish and Holocaust survivor groups.

“We are very disappointed by the court’s decision to refuse an appeal,” said Holocaust Memorial Day Trust chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman. “Holocaust survivors deserve to see the memorial built in their lifetime.”

In February, Mrs Justice Thornton heard claims from a small charity – the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust – against ministers’ earlier decision to allow construction, despite the local authority having been against it.

In April, she gave her judgment, and found in favour of the charity’s bid to protect the park from development by overturning the grant of planning, in part because she found that an Act of Parliament passed 122 years ago, in 1900, was still in effect.

That Act “imposes an enduring obligation to lay out and retain the… land for use as a public garden and integral part of the existing Victoria Tower Gardens”.

Permission to appeal was sought by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation (UKHMF), which is supported by Holocaust survivors, and which has argued for the Victoria Tower Gardens site since shortly after the then prime minister David Cameron announced it back in January 2016.

Artist’s impression issued by the UK Holocaust Memorial showing the aerial view of the proposed Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in London.

However, in her written judgement issued late on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal’s Lady Justice Andrews refused ministers permission to try to overturn Thornton’s ruling that building the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre (HMLC) at its proposed site would be unlawful.

She cited “no real prospect of successfully arguing” that Thornton had misinterpreted the law, adding that “the other proposed grounds of appeal are fatally undermined”, in part because there is “an enduring statutory restriction on the use of the land”.

In her Order, Andrews said: “I am acutely aware of the sensitivities around the Judge’s decision but the high-profile nature of this project and the importance of building this memorial… are not, in themselves, a justification for allowing an appeal to proceed which I regard as having insufficient prospect of success.”

For supporters, it is the latest of several setbacks, most recently last month, when the National Audit Office (NAO) published a damning report on the handling of the HMLC by the Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities.

However, Lord Pickles, co-chair of the UKHMF, said that “while the decision is a setback, it seems to have galvanised support for the HMLC in Parliament”, adding that the Government would seek to change the law to force it through.

“The Government and Opposition reaffirmed their determination to build in Victoria Tower Gardens. The current prime minister supports using an Act of Parliament to make this happen, and I have no doubt that the two candidates for prime minister will also be sympathetic. The autumn will bring a renewed action for construction.”

Prior to Cameron’s announcement in January 2016, Victoria Tower Gardens had been one of three potential sites for the new memorial, another being the Imperial War Museum (IWM), less than a mile away. There are now renewed calls for the IWM site to be reconsidered, given the museum’s impressive new permanent Holocaust exhibitions.

However, Marks-Woldman said the argument for building a memorial next to the seat of British democracy had not disappeared. “A physical memorial next to Parliament would honour the six million Jewish people who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators,” she said on Thursday.

“It would be a powerful statement about Britain’s commitment to commemorate and learn from the Holocaust and genocides of the past and would raise awareness about contemporary forms of antisemitism and prejudice.

“As we reflect on the 77 years since the end of the Holocaust, this physical memorial would still be here in 77 years’ time, outliving us all.”

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