Holocaust memorial proposed for Westminster park divides opinion

Hundreds of people have objected to plans to build a £50m Holocaust memorial in the park next to the Palace of Westminster.

Victoria Tower Gardens was proposed by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation (UKHMF) as the site for a memorial and learning centre to honour victims and survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides, and educate future generations.

But Westminster City Council’s consultation has received nearly 600 objections since early January and more than 11,000 people have signed a petition.

The reasons range from environmental, congestion and security concerns to losing green space for residents, families and office workers.

Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaigner, Nina Grunfeld, said: “First and foremost, we are park campaigners. To threaten parks, whether it’s with flats or football pitches, or a Holocaust memorial, especially at the moment when mental health is such a huge issue and parks are full of comparatively unpolluted air in the city, is wrong.”

Ms Grunfeld, whose parents fled the Nazis as refugees, said that though the memorial may help the Jewish community to feel recognised, she was worried there may be animosity towards Jewish people if they are blamed for the park no longer being used as a green space in central London.

The UKHMF applied for planning permission in December, and a spokesperson said that the plans had been developed with sensitivity to the existing context and character of the park and will retain 93% of the open public space, with the learning centre being underground.

There is both support and opposition to the memorial location within the Jewish community – Rabbis have written to Westminster City Council in support, while a group of Jewish Peers have written to the Times in opposition.

But with a recent poll commissioned by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust suggesting that one in 20 British adults ‘don’t believe the Holocaust really happened’, both sides agree that there is a need for education but disagree on the location.

Holocaust Educational Trust chief executive, Karen Pollock MBE, said: “As survivors become fewer and frailer, and the Holocaust moves further into history, our duty to educate and raise awareness of the Holocaust becomes increasingly important, and this memorial will do just that, sending a clear signal for generations to come of the important place the Holocaust has in our nation’s history and memory.”

The UKHMF – part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – was first proposed by David Cameron, with Theresa May launching the design competition when she became Prime Minister in 2016.

A UKHMF spokesperson said: “No location in Britain is more suitable for the memorial than Victoria Tower Gardens, alongside Parliament where decisions in the lead up to, during and in the aftermath of the Holocaust were made, and amidst prominent memorials commemorating the struggle against slavery, inequality and injustice.”

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