Growing concerns over Westminster Holocaust Memorial project
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Growing concerns over Westminster Holocaust Memorial project

Fears that new moves by MPs and peers to overturn block on the proposed Memorial and Learning Centre close to parliament will be subject of further objections from campaigners

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

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.

Concerns are “growing” that the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre may never be built in the proposed location next to parliament in Westminster.

Jewish News has learned that a new attempt by supportive MPs and Peers could require legislation that is likely to be repeatedly challenged by campaigners against the memorial, leading to further lengthy delays to the £100 million project.

Government insiders said they feared “hybrid legislation” was required to overturn section 8 of the London Council Council (Improvements) Act 1900, used by those opposed to the memorial being built next to parliament.

Such a bill could be subject to more appeals and objections from campaigners against the project.

One government source admitted this week:”Doubts about the memorial ever being built in its chosen location are certainly growing.”

Baroness Ruth Deech, an outspoken opponent of the Westminster memorial project, told Jewish News:” Myself and other objectors will continue to try to be heard.

“I do so for the sake of my family victims whom I feel would be dishonoured by this political and inaccurate project.”

The private act from 1990, which is still in force, “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”.

The challenge to the proposed memorial being built next to parliament in Victoria Tower Gardens had led to the High Court quashing the consent for the project in April this year.

An appeal against the decision has been refused.

In parliament last month former Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick was among those calling for the “simple three-clause Bill required” to allow the case to be made again for the Memorial to be built in Westminster.

Tory leadership contenders Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have both been urged to signal their support for the memorial project next to parliament.

Labouur leader Keir Starmer has said he continues to support the project, backed by a succession of ex Prime Ministers, and leaders of all political parties, along with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

But sources have told Jewish News there is likely to be the need for a hybrid bill proposing a change to the law, and would be subject to petition and scrutiny before Select Committees of both Houses.

Government insiders have also raised concerns about the impact of the on-going Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Programme, which is aiming to restore the famous Houses of Parliament to the former glory.

Much needed building and restoration work could begin in and around area the Memorial and Learning Centre is due to be built, presenting another possible reason for further delays.

In July Court of Appeal’s Lady Justice Andrews refused ministers permission to try to overturn Mrs Justice 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”.

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.
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.”

But the legal expert Joshua Rozenberg, who has argued for a memorial in a different location, said:”If the government had chosen to build the memorial and learning centre at the Imperial War Museum — clearly the most appropriate location — it would have been open by now.”

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