London Mayor supports Holocaust memorial plans, despite controversy

There has been major backlash about the plans for the southern part of Victoria Tower Gardens, which is a UNESCO heritage site.

August 19, 2019 03:59
3 minute read.
London mayor Sadiq Khan

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, speaks during a vigil at Potters Field Park, near the scene of the attack at London Bridge, London, Britain June 5, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/CLODAGH KILCOYNE)

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called on the Westminster City Council to support the construction of a national Holocaust education and memorial center in the southern part of the city’s Victoria Tower Gardens.

There has been major backlash over the plans since its proposal in 2015 as the gardens are a UNESCO heritage site, and there are fears it will “interrupt substantially the key view of the Tower and Palace,” detract from how it is experienced, and also have an impact on the environment that includes concerns over two lines of trees that may not survive the construction, which “would have a massive visual impact.”

Advisers to UNESCO, the Environment Agency and the Royal Parks have shared their concerns over the matter, and there have also been petitions circulated and other attempts to halt the plans.

In a letter to the Westminster Council on Friday, Khan said that the Holocaust center “will show our commitment to fighting extremism and intolerance in all forms,” stressing that it will “make a powerful national statement about our democracy and its values, reminding us what can happen when hatred is left unchecked.

“As we see the scourge of antisemitism and hate crime increasing across our country, now more than ever we need a National Holocaust Memorial so we can learn the lessons from history, as well as pay tribute to the victims of the Nazi genocide,” he wrote. “I have previously expressed my fear however that these plans would be rejected. Westminster City Council must follow the proper consultation process for this planning application and show transparency by fully explaining how it reached its decision.

“I therefore urge Westminster City Council not to reject these plans, and instead enable this hugely important national memorial to take its rightful place in the heart of the capital and close to the seat of national government.”

Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey also threw his weight behind the plans for the Holocaust memorial, calling on all the parties involved to “at least agree that everybody understands the importance of the Holocaust Memorial and its importance to Britain for our understanding of history and the experience of so many of our Jewish citizens.

“Instead of fighting pointlessly over this site, or potentially bending planning law, why not work together to have a politics-free discussion about the feasibility of this site, or even a discussion over a potential new site that respects the aims of those who wish to memorialize this brutal episode. We owe it to the victims of the Holocaust to find a solution to this impasse.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby as well as several other religious leaders wrote a letter earlier this month saying that “memory comes from experience and education. Experience is deepened by symbolism. The symbolism of this center, right next to the home of our democracy is profound and hugely powerful. [It is] a priority for the government and our Prime Minister [Boris Johnson]... I am determined to see it delivered.”

Welby also highlighted that the center will preserve “the memory of the thin line, which distinguishes us from the atrocities of the past.”

Religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim sector have stressed that building the Holocaust educational center “sends a strong and unequivocal message to all people that Britain must be a country committed to supporting tolerance,” adding that they are “deeply saddened” about the continued “rise of outspoken intolerance, racism and hate crimes.”

The memorial and education center, which is set to cost around £102 million, has the support of the UK government. Millions of public funds are also set to be used for the building of the memorial.

The Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign hit back following Khan’s letter, saying that his interference is an “absolute disgrace.”

According to Architects Journal, the campaign’s co-founder architect Barbara Weiss said that “it’s interfering with the [planning] process, which is a democratic process. If you imagine this being a court case, you can’t have people from above telling you how to make a judgement.”

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