New secretary of state endorses faith leaders’ support for Westminster scheme
The new secretary of state for housing, communities and local government has sent a strong message of support to the controversial David Adjaye and Ron Arad-designed proposals for a Holocaust memorial next door to the Houses of Parliament.
In his first pronouncement on the project since replacing James Brokenshire as housing secretary on July 24, Robert Jenrick said backing for the project from faith leaders including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Qari Muhammad Asim, chair of the Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board, was an “important message”.
Adjaye and Arad’s scheme, earmarked for Victoria Tower Gardens immediately south of the Palace of Westminster, has proved divisive because of its proximity to the grade I-listed seat of parliamentary power and the loss of public space it would entail.
The proposals have been through several tweaks since the architect and designer came out top in the design competition for the project in 2017, generally with a view to reducing their impact on Charles Barry’s neighbouring masterpiece.
Unesco advisor the International Council on Memorials and Sites said recently that it did not believe any of the changes had addressed its original concerns that the memorial was “visually intrusive” and called for the scheme to be dropped or relocated.
In a submission to Westminster planners, the organisation said that some of the arguments and supporting statements for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government-backed project were “contradictory and unconvincing”.
The project has also prompted the creation of campaign group Save Victoria Tower Gardens opposing the £50m scheme, which is co-chaired by architect Barbara Weiss.
However in a letter sent to Westminster council last week, Mohammad Asim, Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis said that siting the Holocaust memorial next door to parliament sent a “strong and unequivocal message” about tolerance.
“We believe that there is a profound message in the choice of location that can help remind each of us, and visitors to London, of the dangers of allowing hatred to grow unchecked and the need to vigorously oppose it,” they said.
“In our view, the design, which is sensitive to the current users of the park, will enhance the green space for future generations.”
In a separate letter, also addressed to council leader Nickie Aiken, Justin Welby expressed similar views and said he welcomed the government’s commitment to create a Holocaust memorial and learning centre “on the proposed site”.
Responding to the letters, Jenrick said on Twitter that they represented “an important message from the UK’s most senior faith leaders”.
In June, opponents of the proposals accused the government of trying to manipulate the consultation process on the latest incarnation of the proposals via a firm hired to promote the scheme.
They said the Big Ideas consultancy was bulk-posting supportive comments on the Westminster council planning website in an attempt to overshadow months of substantive opposition to the museum being built in Victoria Tower Gardens.