Stop Government approving its own project to build on a public park

by London Parks and Gardens Trust

Stop Government approving its own project to build on a public park

by London Parks and Gardens Trust
London Parks and Gardens Trust
Case Owner
London Parks and Gardens Trust (www.londongardenstrust.org) is part of a national network linked to the Gardens Trust - statutory consultees championing historic green space for the benefit of all.
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London Parks and Gardens Trust
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London Parks and Gardens Trust (www.londongardenstrust.org) is part of a national network linked to the Gardens Trust - statutory consultees championing historic green space for the benefit of all.
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Latest: Sept. 15, 2020

The Judicial Review has happened!

We have spent the last few days reflecting on an intense court case, which lasted two full days. Due to Covid 19, the hearing took place virtually, with the judge sitting in his living room, wearing …

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A wicked land grab in one of London’s most precious areas of green space, Victoria Tower Gardens, is going on right under the nose of Parliament. We want to see any decision about the proposed Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in this small historic park next to Parliament made lawfully.

The Government, fearful that its application to build this overwhelming structure here would be rejected by Westminster City Council (which it has been), has “called in” the project to decide for itself, over-ruling if need be the recommendation of the Inspector running the necessary Planning Inquiry. 

We say this cannot be right. There is a massive conflict of interest.

  • How can it be reasonable for Government to be both sponsor and decision-maker in a planning application?

  • How can any Minister adjudicate impartially on a planning application when his own Government has publicly committed to the project going ahead?

  • How can a Government ride roughshod over planning policy, subvert the planning process and help itself to a publicly owned green space?

These and other urgent questions hang over the Government’s plan to build a large Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens (see plans below).

We, the London Parks and Gardens Trust (LPGT), have launched a Judicial Review of the decision-making process being used by the Government. We hope it will be considered urgently, prior to the scheduled Planning Inquiry starting in October, so that the Courts can ensure that a decision will be reached lawfully.

Our aim, of course, is to save the threatened historic green space for continued use as a freely enjoyed public park, but to do that we have to challenge the way that the process is being managed by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), and we need your help.

The legal point is that it is unlawful for decisions like this to be taken without institutional separation that assures that the decision maker has complete independence from any influence by the project’s promoter.

Natural enough, you would think, but the Government has so far rejected this requirement and is relying on elaborate bureaucratic measures which it says will give the Minister of Housing adequate separation from influence by the Secretary of State and the rest of the Government.

We say: “can you be serious ...?” – but we need help to take the case to the High Court.

Background

The Government proposes to build a national Holocaust Memorial, with underground Learning Centre, right in the centre of a small, historic, central London park, Victoria Tower Gardens. The proposal would breach planning policy and statute relating to the protection of green space and heritage. It would take up a large part of the park and change its character completely, limiting access and turning what is currently public space for enjoyment and relaxation into a ticketed venue for sombre reflection on the Holocaust.

We are in no way opposed to the construction of a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in a space that can do it justice, but Victoria Tower Gardens is wholly unacceptable and we are strongly opposed not only to the idea but also to the way in which the Government has advanced its proposals. Besides the decision-making process, concerns include: 

  • Rejecting all possible alternative sites without examining relative environmental impact or consulting widely.

  • Expressing, publicly, its commitment to build this structure in this highly sensitive location. Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for the Department of Housing Communities and Local Government, where his Housing Minister is intending to take the decision, has said repeatedly that the Government is ‘implacably’ and ‘unshakeably’ committed to these plans, and has pledged £75m of public funds. His Department pre-empted the expected refusal by the Local Council (City of Westminster), by ‘calling in’ the application before the Council could decide it. (The Council’s Planning Committee met subsequently in February on an advisory basis and unanimously rejected the project on numerous planning grounds.)

  • Failing to take proper account of the effect that construction is likely to have on the park’s unbroken lines of 100-year old plane trees and the old river wall which provides the area’s flood defences.

Why does this matter?

The Secretary of State for MHCLG, currently Robert Jenrick, is the applicant in this planning application. Now that the application has been ‘called in’ by his department, he has recused himself, given the blatant conflict of interest that would arise if he made the decision on his own application. Instead, the decision will be made by a member of Mr Jenrick’s team, the Housing Minister Christopher Pincher. However, it is also absurd to suggest that a Minister can act any less partially in relation to a planning application which has been made by his own boss, and where his own department is the project sponsor. Robert Jenrick, MHCLG and the Government as a whole, have consistently ignored any and all criticism of this project and the damage it is likely to do to the environment, surroundings and amenity value of the park.

We have no choice but to try to stop the project from being steamrolled through.

 What are the legal steps we are taking?

We have asked for a Judicial Review of the Government’s conflicted process - which amounts to granting planning permission to itself. We say the Government has failed to put in place rules which it is obliged to by law to ensure the separation required. 

Who are we?

We are London Parks and Gardens Trust, a small charity - details at www.londongardenstrust.org . For over 25 years we have been dedicated to championing historic green space across London for the benefit of all; we are part of a national network of County Gardens Trusts affiliated to the Gardens Trust, statutory consultees in the planning process for historic designed landscapes. Our mission is to register the historic importance of parks and other green spaces and ensure that these are protected from encroachment for the benefit of all.

Both Richard Buxton Solicitors and Counsel have agreed to progress the case for us under heavily discounted fee arrangements because of the public interest. We have an initial funding target of £5,000, though we will need more, to pay for Court fees, legal fees, and for any losses or liabilities which may arise from this case.

The effects on the gardens:

Loss of their intrinsic character from the reduction in green space,  overwhelming numbers of visitors, and the security required around the gardens as well as the Memorial itself.

A reduction in the grass area of about 30% (and 36% if the steep slopes of the mound over the 'underground' Learning Centre are included).

A reduction in the size of the children's playground.

Damage to, or death of the trees due to severing the roots and hydrological changes. 

The gardens will be divided visually and functionally by the Memorial and mound.

The gardens, which are the largest open space for a big local population, will be mainly inaccessible for the 30 month duration of construction. 




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Update 4

London Parks and Gardens Trust

Sept. 15, 2020

The Judicial Review has happened!

We have spent the last few days reflecting on an intense court case, which lasted two full days. Due to Covid 19, the hearing took place virtually, with the judge sitting in his living room, wearing robes but no wig. The barristers were either at home or in their chambers. They all worked extremely hard and our barristers had the uphill task of presenting the case over 5 hours on the first day – referring to great tomes of preparatory documentation.


The Judge took great interest and care in the case, asking many questions. What we want is for the decision on the planning permission for the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre to be made by an impartial decision-maker and NOT a member of the Government, and this is what we hope this JR will lead to.  However, the decision on our case will have wide ramifications, and will affect many planning applications made by local authorities to themselves.  The Judge was at great pains to acknowledge the public interest in the case and to make no comment about the merits of the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens – that is for another, as yet unknown, entity to decide.


One success, during the course of the hearing, is that the Government was forced to concede that we had not been tardy in our application for a Judicial Review. They therefore withdrew their contention that we had been timed-out – a typical example of their bullying tactics that did not stand the test of reason.


We are keeping our campaign open because the fight is not yet over - we still have the public Inquiry to fund, and even though our lawyers are giving us massively discounted rates, we still have to pay them. If we win the JR then it is possible that the Government will appeal - we would hate to give up at that stage. And finally, another reason is that it enables us to let our supporters know what the judgement is - we are expecting it to be made several weeks from now, probably while the Inquiry is under way.

Update 3

London Parks and Gardens Trust

Sept. 6, 2020

Only three days till the court hearing!

Only three days to go...


We are all excited and nervous about our virtual High Court ‘appearance’ on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The London Gardens Trust will be going to court to fight for a fair and transparent system. We are ‘fighting’ a seemingly small point but, if/when we win, the outcome will have wide ramifications on government powers.


Needless to say, the Government’s expenses are being paid for by all of us through the public purse, but the Trust's aren’t.


Instead, our friends, neighbours and fellow park lovers are all having to dig deep into their bank accounts to ensure that the law is upheld for all of us.


If you can help by passing this around to any of your friends, family or colleagues we would be most grateful.

Update 2

London Parks and Gardens Trust

Aug. 14, 2020

One planning muddle after another!

Our Judicial Review is due to start on September 9th and we are still very far from having all the funds we need for our skilled legal representation. Please pass this email on to all your friends, especially those who are concerned about the loss of green space in our cities. Our case focusses on the lack of separation of powers between the Applicant (Mr Jenrick) and the ultimate decision-maker (Mr Jenrick’s junior minister, Mr Pincher).

However, we thought you would be interested in other matters associated with our current concerns over this whole proposal.  Planning policies, set by the Government, are already clear on the destruction of historic landscapes - it shouldn’t happen - and new legislation should cement this. But, following the publication of the new Planning White Paper, we are even more surprised that the government, and Robert Jenrick as the Secretary of State, is still going ahead with the destruction of this small, central London public park.

The new proposals suggest three catagories of land: ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ and ‘protected’. ‘Protected’ is supposed to mean what it says on the tin - that the land and buildings are protected. Conservation Areas and other similar assets will automatically fall inside the ‘protected’ zones in the new Local Plans that will be made by Councils. It is abundantly clear that, were the legislation enacted now, Victoria Tower Gardens would be in a ‘protected area’, not least because it is the setting for the Houses of Parliament, a World Heritage Site.

The new white paper also has a section on how in the future we are going to be ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’. Can the proposed building, praised for its future ‘disrupting the pleasure of being in a park’ by its architect, really meet the standard of beauty suggested? If Mr Jenrick wants to encourage Building Beautiful then surely this is the wrong approach.

As well as the Judicial Review we are also preparing for the Planning Inquiry, due to start on October 6th. Please continue to help us fight this  Judicial Review, which may have a bearing on the upcoming Planning Inquiry – and then visit the Save VTG website for details of how to contribute to their campaign: https://www.savevictoriatowergardens.co.uk/


Update 1

London Parks and Gardens Trust

July 25, 2020

Our day in court has been decided

We have just heard that our Judicial Review will take place in the week commencing 7th September. This will mean that we should know, before it happens, who will be the ultimate decision-maker at the Planning Inquiry in October/November.


We hope that this decision on Victoria Tower Gardens will be taken out of the hands of a representative of this Government, whose members had already collectively committed to building this Memorial and Learning Centre in this popular small public park before Westminster City Council had decided on the planning permission.


At present, a public inquiry is scheduled for October, when the Planning Inspector will look at a variety of evidence and consider the many planning policies that protect our open spaces.  However, the current arrangements mean that the Planning Inspector is merely an advisor to the Government. 


We want to make sure that the person or people making the decision are wholly impartial.  But to get to this stage we need lawyers to represent us, and money to pay the lawyers. We have had contributions from 123 people so far, one tenth of those who have seen our Crowd Justice page.


We have had wonderful coverage in recent weeks in The Sunday Times and Private Eye amongst other print media, but we need your help.  With your support and those of your like-minded friends we are sure this will help to swell our funds. If you can pass this plea on to all your contacts, via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or anywhere else we would be very grateful.

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