Archbishop of Canterbury backs building of divisive Holocaust memorial next to Parliament

An artist's impression of the proposed memorial designed by Sir David Adjaye                       (Photo: Adjaye Associates & Ron Arad Architects)

Plans for a Holocaust memorial to be built next to the Houses of Parliament have received the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby. 

The plans include a series of bronze structures to be erected in Victoria Tower Gardens, which sits directly adjacent the Thames River and the Houses of Parliament.

An underground Holocaust learning centre to commemorate the millions of Jews killed by the Nazis in World War Two has also been proposed.

The Archbishop has written to Westminster Council recommending that the proposals be given the green light, saying that it is important that "the memory of the thin line which distinguishes us from the atrocities of the past" be preserved. 

"Memory comes from experience and education. Experience is deepened by symbolism. The symbolism of this centre, right next to the home of our democracy is profound and hugely powerful," he wrote.

He added: "I believe it will add significantly to the status of the City of Westminster as a place of government that is a world model."

The plans are being overseen by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation and have the support of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who said it was important to "learn lessons from the past". 

Other high profile figures to endorse the £102 million memorial and eductional centre include London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who said it would be a "powerful national statement" against intolerance.

"As we see the scourge of anti-Semitism 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 said. 

But thousands of objections have been submitted to Westminster Council, including from members of the Jewish community. 

Dr Irene Lancaster, the daughter of Holocaust survivors and a pioneer in Holocaust education, called the memorial plans "hideous" and said they would not deter rising anti-Semitism but could instead have the opposite effect. 

"The proposed structure will cause instead of prevent anti-Semitism," she said.

"The main reason against educating for the future via such a memorial is that these haven't worked in continental Europe. Holocaust memorials and museums in Berlin, France, Belgium and Eastern Europe have been vandalized, desecrated and mocked." 

She added: "It will disrupt a beautiful park with a clear view of Parliament. It will damage the children's playground." 

A number of organisations have also raised concerns about the proposals. 

In a statement, Historic England has warned that the memorial would have a "significant impact on the heritage of this relatively small site" and "fundamentally change its character".

"We support having a UK Holocaust Memorial, however we believe that the proposals in this location would cause serious harm to the significance of the historic Victoria Tower Gardens, the listed Buxton Memorial, and the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square Conservation Area," it said. 

Similarly, UNESCO's International Council on Monuments and Sites has said that the structure would "dominate" the park and that Westminster, which is a World Heritage Site, would be "fundamentally compromised". 

"The current plans would result in the gardens being dominated by the memorial, its bulky entrance pavilion, enclosed forecourt and hard landscaping, as well as the forecast one million visitors a year," it said. 

Royal Parks, the charity that maintains the site, said the plans would have "significant harmful impacts", as well as "fundamentally change" the historic character of the Grade II listed park and its vistas.

"The structure will dominate the park and eclipse the existing listed memorials which are nationally important in their own right," it said in a letter.

A spokesman for Westminster Council told the London Evening Standard: "The City Council has made it very clear that the decision ... will be made on planning grounds after careful assessment of all the representations received."