Right Idea, Wrong Location: Save Victoria Tower Gardens

by Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign

Right Idea, Wrong Location: Save Victoria Tower Gardens

by Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign
Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign
Case Owner
A group of individuals and professionals coming together in order to prevent the Government from building a huge and out-of-character Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens.
23
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£4,090
pledged of £7,500 stretch target from 96 pledges
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Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign
Case Owner
A group of individuals and professionals coming together in order to prevent the Government from building a huge and out-of-character Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens.
Pledge now

This case is raising funds for its stretch target. Your pledge will be collected within the next 24-48 hours (and it only takes two minutes to pledge!)

Latest: April 11, 2022

LATEST NEWS: WE HAVE WON THE JUDICIAL REVIEW! THE PLANNING PERMISSION HAS BEEN




Please read below the letter from the charity that has acted as the Claimant at the Judicial Review, The London Historic Parks and Garden Trust.  

While this is probably not the end of the line, …

Read more

About us

The Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign (SVTG) is fighting to prevent the Government from building a huge Holocaust Memorial and underground Learning Centre in the Listed Grade 2 riverside park next to Parliament.

We support the Government’s wish to memorialise the Holocaust, and to improve education around racism and anti-Semitism. We believe however that this park is the wrong site for ANY BUILDING. London’s precious parks should be preserved at all costs as untouched areas of greenery, to be enjoyed by the thousands of people who live or work nearby, or who come as visitors. It is our legacy to future generations.

A bit of background

The original 2015 report by the Holocaust Commission identified three potential sites for the Holocaust Memorial. The Commission could have, but did not, at the time, include VTG, presumably because it had in mind that parks are off-limits to development, and recognised that this one, specifically, would be too small to accommodate the agreed brief.

SVTG’s campaign began in January 2016 when, without consultation or debate, it was announced that Victoria Tower Gardens was the chosen site for both the Memorial and associated underground Learning Centre.

Why is this the wrong place? 

Broadly speaking, our arguments are: 

  • Green open space - Planning policy, at national, London and borough level, seeks to protect green open space. The proposed development will remove more than ¼ of the park’s grassed area, will change the atmosphere of the park and may lead to restricted access. The existing playground will be reduced in size and become a thoroughfare to the Holocaust Learning Centre.
  • Trees - Victoria Tower Gardens is lined with 100-year-old plane trees that frame the view of Parliament. As their roots extend far into the centre of the park, a good number of trees will most likely be seriously damaged or killed by the proposed underground excavations.
  • Heritage - The Gardens form part of the setting for the World Heritage Site that comprises The Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey. Historic England and ICOMOS (advisors to UNESCO), have expressed serious concerns about the impact of the proposal on the exceptional local heritage assets and neighbouring conservation areas. It would also eclipse the magnificent Buxton Memorial Fountain, the only Central London monument to the abolition of slavery.
  • Amenity – Very many of the homes close to Victoria Tower Gardens do not benefit from private gardens, so this park is essential recreational space for thousands of families, and a meeting place for all generations of the local community. This would be lost should the project go ahead.
  • Character - We now know that the applicants expect as many as 3 million visitors per year. An influx of this magnitude would transform Victoria Tower Gardens from a quiet park into a busy civic space, with all the attributes required to manage such large groups of people.
  • Flooding –The Environment Agency has stated that the proposed development ‘does not have a safe means of access and egress in the event of flooding.’ In the unlikely but potential scenario of the river wall being breached, hundreds of visitors to the Learning Centre could be trapped underground and might even drown in the three-storey deep basement.
  • Traffic - The road beside the park is already busy with cars, cyclists and traffic to Parliament. Allowing coaches to stop in the bus lane to drop off and pick up visitors to the Holocaust Memorial would increase congestion, pollution and risk to cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Security - Before long, VTG would be treated in its entirety as the Holocaust Memorial site. It’s likely that at times there will be searches at all entrance gates, armed security guards and restrictions on the use of the park.  Any security threat would no doubt disrupt the quiet enjoyment of the park for many months.
  • Public opinion – An unprecedented 1100 people have objected to this planning application, via Westminster Council, and more than 19000 have signed a petition opposing the development. It is important to note that many members of the Jewish community oppose this scheme for the reasons we outline here. Many others have a philosophical disagreement with this approach to Holocaust memorialisation, preferring to prioritise education over building.  It has been stated many times that going ahead with this iconic building in a public park will not stop anti-Semitism, to the contrary, it will create more friction .
  • Alternative locations - There are excellent alternatives to building in Victoria Tower Gardens, including the Imperial War Museum, which was one of the original site suggestions. The Government has not properly evaluated these alternative sites, even though such a comparison is required in planning law by an Environment Agency directive.


What has been happening

Having applied to Westminster Council for planning permission, but anticipating a refusal, the Government decided in late 2019 to ‘call in’ its own application.  Immediately after, on 11 February 2020, Westminster Council unanimously delivered the refusal that was expected. This was excellent news for our campaign.  

The next step in this process involved a public Inquiry to be conducted by a Planning Inspector.  After eight long weeks of Inquiry, and despite recognising the huge weight of our arguments, largely delivered by world-renowned experts in various capacities, the Inspector submitted a recommendation to the Secretary of State to approve the scheme, based on the axiom that the ‘public benefit’ derived from building would outweigh the harm it caused.  As expected, Christopher Pincher, standing in for Robert Jenrick, then Secretary of State, accepted the recommendation and duly granted approval to the scheme at the end of July 2021.    

Since then, SVTG, along with several other amenity groups sympathetic to its aims, has been very proactive.  In particular it has been working very closely with the London Gardens Trust and with Baroness Deech, another Rule 6 party to the Inquiry, seeking possible ways to overturn the decision.  This has now paid off, as we have been given leave to appeal via a Judicial Review on two legal ‘grounds’, one relating to harm to the Grade 2* Buxton Memorial, the other to insufficient consideration by the Government of alternative sites.

We have now assembled a formidable legal team and are painstakingly preparing for our days in court in early 2022.   On the side, we are all continuing to raise awareness, asking parliamentary questions, writing letters and articles, and generally doing everything we can to turn the tide.

How much do we need to raise?

Taking on the government is expensive, and despite calling in all the volunteer and pro bono support we can get, it’s going to be another costly battle. At this stage, over and above the incredibly generous donations received to date, we believe we need to raise a further £50 000 to cover the legal fees we are currently incurring, the court hearing and any costs that might arise.  

Other important information

For the next round of the legal battle, London Parks and Garden Trust is acting as the Claimant, as it benefits from its established Charity status.  For this reason, we will now be channelling all money raised from this Crowdjustice page to a LPGT account specifically set up for our joint campaign.  Please donate generously, in the knowledge that every penny counts, and that it is essential that our legal campaign should be properly funded.   

Thank you

We’re extremely grateful to anyone who is able to help us.  There are important principles at stake, mainly the protection of parks for their recreational value, and the need to ensure that Government abides by its very own planning policies, to the benefit of us all, and of future generations.  


Victoria Towers Gardens today:

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Victoria Towers Gardens as it will be, if planning permission is granted:

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Update 2

Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign

April 11, 2022

LATEST NEWS: WE HAVE WON THE JUDICIAL REVIEW! THE PLANNING PERMISSION HAS BEEN




Please read below the letter from the charity that has acted as the Claimant at the Judicial Review, The London Historic Parks and Garden Trust.  

While this is probably not the end of the line, it is a great result.

  

Dear Supporters

We did it!  Without each and every one of you supporting us to protect this precious historic public park, today would not have been possible.

Below is the press release sent out today following the court's decision. There has been a lot of coverage.  Current coverage here - should update regularly.

The full judgement and supporting information will be posted on our website shortly.

This may not be the end of our challenges as  the Government has 21 days to appeal the decision or may seek other ways to continue this scheme.  We continue to welcome donations directly to the Trust or via this platform as we prepare for what might come next. Please also share this news with friends and family to encourage ongoing support.

Kind regards

London Gardens Trust

PRESS RELEASE

The High Court today, 08/04/22, found in favour of a small charity’s campaign to protect Westminster’s Victoria Tower Gardens public park from development.   

In February Mrs Justice Thornton heard the claim of London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust [The Trust] against the Government’s decision to grant planning permission for the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to Parliament [the decision]. Today Mrs Justice Thornton found that the claim succeeds on the grounds that the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 [the 1900 Act] imposes statutory protection of the park;  

“The appropriate remedy is to quash the decision, so as to enable further consideration of the implications of the 1900 Act.   It is an Act of Parliament which specifically regulates Victoria Tower Gardens and specifies that the land must be retained for use as a public garden.“  

Planning permission had been granted following a 2020 Planning Inquiry which heard detailed opposition to the proposed scheme from the Trust, the Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign, Westminster City Council, and The Thorney Island Society.  

Although supportive of Holocaust Memorial and Learning, the Trust joins many prominent people, including those from the Jewish community, Baroness Deech and a former Archbishop of Canterbury, who raised concerns about the Government’s plan. The Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign believe that this proposal is the right idea in the wrong place, and with the Trust, hopes that the High Court’s decision will lead to a new approach and protection for historic landscapes.    

 Helen Monger, Director of The Trust said: “This is major boost for the protection of London parks at a time when they’ve never been more valued by the public.   

 The High Court has given the government a welcome chance to reflect and re-consider the best site for a fitting Holocaust Memorial which the UK deserves, without tearing up historic protections for our parks.”    

 Lucy Peck from the Save VTG campaign said: "We are pleased that planning permission for the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens has been quashed. We have argued for many years that the Government was pursuing the right idea in the wrong place. Today's judgement sends a strong message about the protection of public parks." 

 Richard Buxton, Trust Solicitor said: “This judgment reflects what Parliament intended in 1900, when Victoria Tower Gardens was seen as something that should be “kept as a garden for the use of the public for ever.” No Government can ride roughshod over Acts of Parliament, and we trust that the Government will see the good sense of their forebears and revise their unlawful plans for this protected site. “ 

 The Court did not support the Trust’s appeal on the grounds of the heritage setting nor comment on the matter of possible alternative sites.

 
 
Update 1

Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign

Feb. 24, 2022

Our two days in court have come and gone!

February 2022 Update from London Parks and Gardens Trust on the events that took place at the High Court this week.

We are pleased with how things went and will be sending more updates in the next few days.

In the interim, please find below a summary of what has been happening.

All the High Court papers are now in.

From 9am-10am there was be a ‘gentle’ demonstration outside the Law Courts (“the Royal Courts of Justice”) on the Strand.  The emphasis was on a respectful gathering and all were welcome to come along to show support. Those without children and dogs had the option of heading inside to watch the hearing in the public gallery for themselves. 

A reminder about why we are at the Law Courts

The Trust seeks to protect London's historic green spaces for the enjoyment of everyone now and in future generations.  Building the proposed monument and learning centre jeopardises the public park's historic integrity forever.

Following last year’s Planning Inquiry, the Trust brought a claim to overturn the Inspector’s decision to grant permission for the project and the subsequent approval of same by the then Minister for Housing (Christopher Pincher MP).  The Inspector recognised that his recommendation was “finely balanced”. 

LGT believes, and has been advised by Counsel, that the decision included several errors of law, including:

· not giving appropriate consideration to alternative sites such as the Imperial War Museum (which was originally keen to host the project and has excellent Holocaust galleries)

· not properly evaluating the harm to the Grade ll* Buxton Memorial commemorating those who brought about the 1834 Abolition of Slavery Act.

and 

· the Trust is also hoping that the judge will consider the unlawfulness of building in a garden created by the 1900 LCC Act.

Garden history and research, lies at the heart of the London Gardens Trust ethos, and it is gratifying to see it play such a pivotal role in our evidence for this case. For those interested in the 1900 Act you can read more on the Trust’s website here.  The evidence shows that those promoting the creation of Victoria Tower Gardens in the 1890s intended it to remain a site for future generations to enjoy, giving access to the Thames.

We are grateful to all those who have written to the Secretary of State and elsewhere to try and persuade Government to withdraw this project and avoid further unnecessary public expenditure.

Media interest

On 13th February 2022, the Observer published an article by Rowan Moore interviewing Martin Stern, a Holocaust survivor who was an early backer of the memorial idea and has bravely explained his change of heart having seen the full extent of the plans.  On 17th February the Times published an open letter with numerous signatories including amongst others the Right Reverend Lord Williams of Oystermouth (former Archbishop of Canterbury); Anita Lasker-Wallfisch (a Holocaust survivor); Dr Irene Lancaster; all objecting to the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre.

Your continued support

Our High Court case was scheduled to take place on 22nd and 23rd February, but the decision may take a few weeks. We’ll update further when we have news.

We are grateful to all our supporters for making it possible for us to reach this stage - we may yet need further backing depending on next steps so do please continue to donate if you can.


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