MPs issue warning on Holocaust memorial project’s rising costs and security

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MPs issue warning on Holocaust memorial project’s rising costs and security

Surprise at lack of consultation on choice of Westminster site where round-the-clock protection is likely to be required – at an unknown price, says select committee

Protesters at the Royal Courts of Justice ahead of a hearing in February 2022 about the UK Holocaust Memorial
Protesters at the Royal Courts of Justice ahead of a hearing in February 2022 about the UK Holocaust Memorial

MPs reviewing legislation designed to clear the way for the building of a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Westminster have criticised the government for mistakes with the project and a lack of proper planning.   

The Holocaust Memorial Bill select committee also issued warnings about the rising costs of the project in Victoria Tower Gardens as well as how it will be protected “in light of current circumstances”, a reference to the pro-Palestinian marches that have taken place over recent months in central London.

But in their report, published on Friday, the MPs did not make amendments to the legislation, pointing out that instructions to them agreed by the Commons effectively prevented them from doing so.

“It seems to us that the true cost of this project has not been established,” the MPs said. “Expenditure has gone up from £50m to £137m since the proposal was announced in 2015.” They urged the government to consider who will fund ongoing costs and whether the plans are “an appropriate use of public money”.

Warnings on security given to the committee by two petitioners, Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, and Lord Blencathra “ought to be taken seriously by the government”, the MPs added. “Security is likely to be required around the clock and this is, as yet, an unknown cost.

“Clear proposals should be published which show what steps the government intends to take around the security of any memorial and learning centre. Such considerations ought to be undertaken expeditiously before any planning application is progressed.”

The five MPs on the committee – three Conservative and two Labour – with John Stevenson (Con, Carlisle) in the chair, also expressed strong disapproval of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation’s failure to consult on the choice of a site as well as of how the government had managed the consequences of the hybrid nature of the bill.

Some of those who gave evidence to the committee had described the site decision as a “moment of genius”, the committee recalled.  It expressed “surprise” that Victoria Tower Gardens had not been chosen “via a thorough consultation”, adding: “Instead, we understand that the prime minister’s Holocaust Commission Report identified a shortlist of sites in 2015, but that Victoria Tower Gardens did not appear on that list.”

Petitioners against the bill, introduced to the Commons in February 2023 and drafted to repeal a 1900 Act that provides for the gardens to be kept for public use, and which had not been known about when the site was chosen, welcomed the committee’s drawing of attention to “so many important areas of concern”.

“The committee has, in effect, concluded that petitioners’ concerns are valid,” said Baroness (Ruth) Deech, on behalf of a number of Holocaust survivors and educators as well as London Parks and Gardens; the Thorney Island Society & Residents of Westminster; the Buxton Family & Thomas Fowell Buxton Society.

She added: “Everyone involved must be relieved that the serious concerns relating to this project have at last been brought to the attention of the government. Important risks to security and uncertain funding must be addressed and the deprivation of the rights of local people mitigated.

“When the bill goes to the Lords’ select committee we will continue to expand on these points made in our petitions that the committee has taken up, and to challenge the proposal through the planning process.”

The late Holocaust survivor Sir Ben Helfgott, his son Maurice and grandson Reuben at the site of of the proposed memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens

The board of London Parks and Gardens said: “This report exposes the shambles that this government has made of what should be the most solemn cause. It highlights the lack of legitimacy which looms over this plan to build over a public park and heaps criticism on ministers’ handling of procedural matters.

“MPs note with concern that the costs of this project remain entirely unknown and that the failure to address security concerns about this site will require further delay. We continue to urge parliament to fulfil their noble intent in a more fitting location and to protect this precious park.”

Richard Buxton, for the Buxton Family and Thomas Fowell Buxton Society, said the committee has “rightly recognised that [a memorial] will be beset with security problems. The government must also now surely realise that the design and scope of any Holocaust memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens must respect other important issues commemorated there, including universal suffrage, the abolition of slavery and the quality of mercy, and it is now a case of ‘back to the drawing board’.”

The other committee members are Keir Mather (Lab, Selby and Ainsty), Lia Nici (Con, Great Grimsby), Angela Richardson (Con, Guildford) and Karl Turner (Lab, Kingston upon Hull East).

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it was pleased that the select committee had passed the bill in full.

A spokesperson said: “Antisemitism has no place in our society and it is vital that we learn from the past to help build a future free from prejudice and hatred. A national memorial to the Holocaust will ensure we remember its victims and preserve the memory of what happened for ourselves and for all future generations.”

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