Holocaust memorial back in court
Campaigners challenge planning permission granted last year
A High Court judge will begin hearing a challenge today to the government’s plan to build a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in a public park adjoining the Houses of Parliament.
Mrs Justice Thornton, who as Justine Thornton QC specialised in environmental law, will hear a claim brought by the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust, a small charity that works to enhance the capital’s green spaces. The trust is challenging planning permission granted last July to the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government by the then housing minister Christopher Pincher MP. The government had intended to start building work last year.
Permission to apply for judicial review under statutory powers was granted last October by Mrs Justice Lieven on two grounds:
that the minister and the planning inspector applied the wrong legal test in assessing whether the new structure would “substantial” harm to heritage assets within the Victoria Tower Gardens, including the Grade II* Buxton Memorial which commemorates campaigners who persuaded parliament to pass the Slavery Abolition Act 1833; and
that there was an error of approach in considering alternative sites. As summarised in the trust’s press release, Lieven indicated that although the planning inspector did consider the nearby Imperial War Museum as an alternative location, the way the inspector did so effectively placed the burden on the objector to produce a “detailed scheme” which would in practice be almost impossible to do.
The trust will ask Thornton for permission to seek judicial review on a third ground, rejected by Lieven:
that the minister failed to address the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900, which says the land chosen for the memorial “shall be laid
out and maintained in manner hereinafter provided as a garden [which is] open to the public and as an integral part of the existing Victoria Tower Garden”.
The campaigners behind today’s challenge say they are
all strong supporters of Holocaust memorialisation and the need for improved Holocaust education. Their principal objection to the current scheme has always been the proposed location and damage to a historic public park.
They point out that although the project is supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Chief Rabbi, it has deeply divided the Jewish community. Opponents sum up their objections as “right idea, wrong place”.
Among the concerns raised at the planning inquiry, the trust list these in their press release:
Multiple breaches of planning policies, especially those protecting green open space.
Serious risk of breach or surface water flooding into an entirely subterranean building.
Reduction and overcrowding of Victoria Tower Gardens as a local amenity including, among other things, compromising a vital children’s playground.
Heritage impacts, including endangering the world heritage status of the Westminster world heritage site.
The risk to the mature plane trees that border the park, from the deep excavation required to construct an underground learning centre.
The trust’s application will be opposed by the government at the two-day hearing. There is a second defendant, Westminster City Council, which has said it would have refused planning permission if the decision had not been “called in” by the government.
Judgment is expected at a later date.
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