Stop Government abusing planning rules to build on iconic public park

by London Gardens Trust

Stop Government abusing planning rules to build on iconic public park

by London Gardens Trust
London Gardens Trust
Case Owner
London Gardens Trust is a small charity with a big mission to champion London’s historic parks, gardens, squares and green spaces for the benefit of everyone. Case advisor: Richard Buxton Solicitors
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London Gardens Trust
Case Owner
London Gardens Trust is a small charity with a big mission to champion London’s historic parks, gardens, squares and green spaces for the benefit of everyone. Case advisor: Richard Buxton Solicitors
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Latest: Dec. 10, 2021

December 2021 update - Detailed grounds of resistance submitted

The Trust and fellow campaigners have been busy during November and December in anticipation of the High Court hearing against the Government on the 22nd and 23rd February 2022. 

Despite the impe…

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What are we trying to achieve? 

To stop the Government ruining Victoria Tower Gardens (VTG) with a huge new monument and underground structure. VTG is bounded by the World Heritage Site of the Palace of Westminster, the Thames, magnificent trees on the Embankment, and Lambeth Bridge. We support endeavours for Holocaust education, but this planned memorial would be a disaster for this beautiful and much-used park. It is a small area and will be unable to cope with what is proposed.

The project is known as the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre (UKHMLC). It has been conceived and promoted by the Government. It was proposed without warning to go in VTG “in a moment of genius” by ministers. We and many others, including Holocaust victims and descendants, say the site is anything but genius. 

You will see from the photos above and plans below, how much the structure, along with security fencing etc. will impact on the existing space – the gardens will no longer be a place for recreation, but will become first and foremost a tourist destination, attracting a huge number of people.  The existing character of this Grade 2 listed park will be irrevocably destroyed.  Instead of the grass shown above, there would be a mound and security fencing (above the intended learning centre) with much loss of grass.  

 

 

The pictures show how the new monument will abut and overshadow the heritage-listed (Grade 2*) Buxton Memorial, which recognises the campaign for the abolition of slavery.  The future health and viability of at least two ancient plane trees forming part of the original Victorian design of the gardens is also in question. And the work would be in direct breach of an Act of Parliament intended to secure the area as an oasis of green space, gardens for the enjoyment of the public.

We seek to overturn the decision of an Inspector to grant permission following a Planning Inquiry, and the subsequent approval of same by the Minister for Housing (Christopher Pincher). The Secretary of State, then Robert Jenrick, had to delegate the decision to his direct junior (supposedly to secure objectivity).  The Inspector recognised that his recommendation was “finely balanced”. We believe and are advised by Counsel that he made several errors of law, including not giving serious consideration to the most obvious alternative site at the Imperial War Museum (which was keen to host the project), not properly evaluating the status of VTG as a listed park and garden, evaluating harm to listed assets in an unlawful way, and not grappling with the harm to the trees which the Inspector had recognised. 

Please help challenge this wholly inappropriate development which stands to wreck an iconic green space. We have support from many people and local groups. Westminster City Council fought hard against the proposals at the planning inquiry. But this sort of challenge is expensive, and we need all we can get.

Who are we and why are we doing this? 

London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust (known as the London Gardens Trust) is a small charity that seeks to protect historic parks and gardens across the capital. We are affiliated to the Gardens Trust, statutory consultees in the planning process representing designed historic landscapes.

The Government seeks to build the UKHMLC at VTG, adjacent to the World Heritage Site of the Palace of Westminster. The Trust entirely respects the desire to memorialise and educate people about the Holocaust, but not in the way proposed here. 

The Trust has long campaigned to stop this inappropriate development. An earlier Judicial Review queried the lack of objectivity of the ministerial decision-making arrangements and at least resulted in disclosure of so-called “handling arrangements” within the department. 

The Trust appeared at the planning inquiry held to consider the project and which resulted in the Inspector recommending approval of the planning application but only by a fine margin, essentially because it was said to be needed urgently. The full report is available here.

While carefully written, we are advised the report and decision are unlawful. With the seed support we have had, we have already lodged an appeal in the High Court and await responses from the government. At the heart of the legal points mentioned is the perception of the Trust, and many others, that the proposal is simply wrong; and London will bitterly regret the loss of VTG.

Call to action 

The case has national implications for all planning involving listed buildings and historic parks like VTG. There is an excellent team of lawyers, but even with them working at reduced rates, this costs time and effort. Please give as generously as you can. 

What is the next step in the case? 

After responses from opponents, we will await a decision from the High Court about whether the case is granted permission to proceed, and there are various possibilities as to how it will be dealt with. We'll send updates to our subscribers as soon as we hear further.

How much we are raising and why? 

The Trust risks having to pay the government £10,000 if it loses. We also have significant legal costs of our own. Our fundraising target is initially £10,000 to cover that liability but we anticipate needing to budget in the region of £50,000, much of which we hope will come from this crowdfunding page. 

Thank you for your previous support, and reading this - we must not give up now.

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Update 3

London Gardens Trust

Dec. 10, 2021

December 2021 update - Detailed grounds of resistance submitted

The Trust and fellow campaigners have been busy during November and December in anticipation of the High Court hearing against the Government on the 22nd and 23rd February 2022. 

Despite the impending Court Case, the UKHMF submitted a number of documents to Westminster City Council seeking approval for enabling works.  These works include trimming tree roots and starting to remove elements of the park before the end of February and the High Court's judgment. We have therefore written to Westminster Council (currently listed as fellow defendants alongside the Minister and the Secretary of State) and the Royal Parks to stop these works from progressing. We have now had some reassurance that non-reversible work will not take place until the result of the court case is known.  We have also raised additional matters of concern relating to flooding.

The Trust has also received a copy of the Grounds for Resistance from both the Secretary of State and the Minister.  You can read all the documents as always on our website where we provide a Record of Events.  You'll note that the Secretary of State in Paragraph 39 of his submission persists in implying that only 7% of the park will be taken up by the new building despite the Inspector accepting in his report (15.204) that it is likely to be greater and a junior minister has told Parliament that 15% of the green space would go (See Footnote 1).   

The Minister emphasises at paragraph 6 that he is maintaining a functional separation in accordance with the Handling Arrangements published previously.  This was only made transparent after the Trust went to Court prior to the Planning Inquiry.  This is consistent with a lack of transparency throughout the delivery of this project - the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) previously the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has consistently withheld information on how the selection of Victoria Tower Gardens was made and why other alternatives were ruled out.

The nub of the case focusses on:

  • whether the harm to the setting of the Grade 2* Buxton Memorial has been assessed lawfully
  • whether the Government's presentation of alternative sites to tip the planning balance in favour of Victoria Tower Gardens as the chosen location was lawful

The Trust is also concerned that the Minister in reaching his decision did not consider the requirements of a 1900 Act of Parliament, which mandated that the gardens should be maintained as a public park, when pressing ahead with the project.

This case continues to throw surprises, and we are grateful for the sustained support of donors, but we have a long way to go to raise much needed funding to challenge the Government.  Please do share the information with others and encourage their involvement no matter how small - every penny will count.  

Footnote (1) We say 26% of the greenspace in the park will be replaced with additional hard standing and buildings - see our evidence including the Statement of Significance presented to the Planning Inquiry with supported plan (p67).

Update 2

London Gardens Trust

Oct. 29, 2021

Great news! A judge has given the go-ahead for a hearing based on our challenge

November 2021 update

The High Court has just given the LGT leave to pursue its appeal against the Minister of Housing’s decision to allow the proposed Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens. This is a major advance for our case.

Mrs Justice Lieven has agreed with LGT that two issues in the case – about the correct legal way of evaluating harm to heritage assets, and whether the approach to looking at alternative locations (expecting objectors to come up with detailed proposals, which she says put them into “an almost impossible position”) – are arguable, and merit consideration by the Court.

The Judge has disagreed with the LGT’s other points, about recognition of the heritage status of Victoria Tower Gardens; about the decision-making in relation to possible harm to the magnificent plane trees; and the application of an Act of Parliament that we believe prohibits what is proposed. We are considering, as is quite normal in these cases, whether to ask for those aspects of the ruling to be reconsidered.

Meanwhile the Government is pressing for an urgent decision but is still withholding vital information that LGT and others have requested repeatedly. This relates to the issue of alternative options on which we have been granted permission to proceed. The Government claims to have carefully considered several alternatives, including the Imperial War Museum, but has refused to divulge how it came to choose Victoria Tower Gardens. All it has said, separately in answer to Parliamentary Questions, is that 'The sites shortlisted … were not assessed by the Foundation as suitable and no detailed cost estimates were made.'

The harm to heritage issue is about the treatment of the Buxton Memorial - a Grade 2* Victorian monument - which commemorates the abolition of slavery in the British empire. At a time when the Government and society wants to take into account all of the impacts of the British empire, including the effects of slavery, it seems quite wrong to ruin the setting of such an important memorial by ignoring its careful siting within this public park. The seemingly arcane legal issue, one of great importance for this and other heritage-affected cases, is what “substantial” or “less than substantial” harm means when making planning judgments.

So: battle is joined! We need funds to pursue this to a hearing via, no doubt, skirmishes on the way relating to disclosure and the other grounds.

Please do spread the word and give as generously as you can – all contributions are welcomed to support our small charity with its costs for this significant and complex case.

Here is a copy of Mrs Justice Lieven’s order.

Update 1

London Gardens Trust

Oct. 29, 2021

We have got to our £10k minimum fundraising target but need more now!

October 2021 Update

Your support is needed now so the LGT can meet all its likely legal costs.  Read below to see what has been happening.

Summary of Legal Exchanges

Back in August, prior to the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust (LGT) going to court, we wrote a Pre-Application Protocol letter asking for information about how the Government looked at alternative sites.  LGT did not have to do this, as it was undertaking a s.288 Appeal, but wanted to give the Secretary of State and the Minister every chance to explain and justify their approach to this project and ideally persuade them to see sense and withdraw the scheme!  Instead of responding in good time, the Government delayed and continued to withhold information. LGT submitted its appeal anyway so as not to be timed out.  

The Government then complained that the papers submitted by the Trust to the Courts had not addressed their legal points and continued to withhold the information requested.  Objectors have repeatedly asked to see critical papers about how Victoria Tower Gardens was selected over any other location in Central London - until these are revealed the conclusion that this is the only viable site for such a monument is not justifiable.  

You may remember that in LGT's previous action, the Government failed to publish their handling arrangements until the Trust went to Court. If there is nothing to hide, then why not disclose the information? and why not now?

The Government often say that they are pushing for an urgent decision because they want to build this before the last of the survivors die.  Whilst this is an entirely laudable aim, the Government has taken over 70 years to determine the need for such a monument and has chosen a controversial approach which has in itself delayed the project. In their apparent haste they have failed to subject the project to proper parliamentary scrutiny which should have included repealing the 1900 act which set up the Gardens.  

We have issued a response to the Government and the Learning for the Righteous's presentations to the Court.  The matter now rests with the High Court and we'll update you when we hear more. To read the full history and documentation please visit the Trust's website recording the timeline for all the events of this case.

Planning Conditions with Westminster City Council

Westminster Council imposed 36 Conditions on the granting of Planning Permission as part of an agreement recommended by the Planning Inspector.  Some of these are routine, such as restrictions on construction time, but others should be more difficult to fulfill, such as the requirement to prepare an evacuation plan in the case of flooding from the river.  Unless the Conditions are fulfilled the work cannot start.  Initially, the Government submitted an outline construction timetable indicating preparatory works starting in the park very soon but these have now been withdrawn pending this legal case.

Fundraising

LGT is hugely grateful to all the existing supporters who have helped us reach our minimum target of £10k - thank you so much. Unfortunately we have a lot more to do yet - please continue to give money to support our legal costs and spread the word.

We will have more news very soon.

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