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London Holocaust memorial delayed by statutory challenge

The London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust has launched a legal challenge to the Secretary of State's decision to grant planning permission for a Holocaust Memorial and learning centre in a park bordering the Palace of Westminster.

In July this year, the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, Robert Jenrick, gave planning permission to build the project in Victoria Tower Gardens.

However, detractors said the project should be housed elsewhere. The London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust, also known as the London Gardens Trust, went on to launch a challenge late last month (September 2021) on the basis that decision-makers failed to properly consider the impacts of the development.

Appearing as an interested party in the inquiry - held under section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 - the trust made a joint case with the Thorney Island Society, the local amenity society, and the Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign.

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As part of their case, they called upon expert evidence on harm to heritage assets, harm to the character, amenity and significance of Victoria Tower Gardens as a Registered Park and Garden, harm to the mature trees surrounding the park, and on the availability of a site at the Imperial War Museum as an alternative location for the application proposals.

The approved planning proposals comprise a single-storey entrance pavilion, a memorial courtyard enclosed by rails, hedges and boundary glazing, and the memorial itself. A below-ground learning centre is also part of the plan alongside the re-provision of a playground and refreshments kiosk on the site. Spicer Memorial, a 100-year-old structure, will be relocated and extensive landscaping works will be undertaken.

The Gardens themselves are a Grade II Registered Park and Garden and form part of the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square Conservation Area. They contain a number of listed buildings, including a Grade I listed sculpture by Rodin.

The trust advanced five grounds of challenge. The first ground challenges the test applied by the Inspector and the Minister who agreed with him on the issue of whether there was "substantial harm" to the heritage assets within the gardens, pursuant to the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The test applied was derived in part from Bedford BC v. SoSCLG [2012] EWHC 4344 and set out that for the harm to the significance of a heritage asset to be regarded as substantial, the impact on significance must be such that "much, if not all, of the significance [is] drained away".

In the trust's statement, it said the "gloss imposed by this language" on the meaning of 'substantial' has "no justification" within the test set out in the NPPF and the National Planning Policy Guidance. According to the trust, it produced a "major incoherence" in the application of a central aspect of policy on the protection of heritage assets.

In its second ground, the trust challenged the Inspector and Minister's assessment of the harm to the gardens as a Registered Park and Garden.

Ground three challenges the Minister's alleged failure to address the provisions of the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900. The trust calls upon the requirement in the Act for the southernmost part of the gardens to be "laid out and maintained in manner hereinafter provided as a garden... open to the public... as an integral part of the existing Victoria Tower Garden".

Ground four claims the approach to the consideration of alternative sites, including a site at the Imperial War Museum in Southwark, was erroneous.

The final ground challenges the Minister and Inspector's conclusions on the risk of harm to the plane trees on the western side of the park which "play a central role in enhancing the setting of the Gardens and the heritage assets situated in and around them", according to the trust.

Two separate crowdfunding campaigns have launched as part of the effort. The London Gardens Trust's campaign has received £1,925 in donations, while a second campaign hosted by Save Victoria Tower Gardens has received over £33,000.

Adam Carey

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