“A beautiful and irreplaceable park, enjoyed by residents, workers and tourists for more than a century, would in effect be destroyed”.  


The public inquiry into the Government’s controversial plans to construct a Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament has just opened. The historian Dorian Gerhold has published a very timely and fascinating study of the history of the gardens and its “planned destruction” which ought to be read by everyone concerned with the inquiry. 

The first part is a marvellously illustrated pre-history of Victoria Tower Gardens with all the scholarship and attention to detail that the author displayed in his previous books including London Bridge and its Houses (1209 -1761) It tells how Victoria Tower Gardens (VTG) was created in two stages. The northern part (near the Houses of Parliament) was made possible when in 1879, WH Smith the newspaper retailer and MP donated £1000 on the condition that it was “for the use of the inhabitants, and children especially, of Westminster“. Parliament added £1400 on the understanding that the gardens would be kept as a recreation ground as agreed with Smith. The second, more expensive, stage involved widening the gardens at the southern end (near Lambeth Bridge).  The Government donated land to enable this to happen on condition again that it was kept as a garden in keeping with the undertakings made to WH Smith.


It is this founding concept of the gardens as a place of relaxation for everyone that is at risk if the Government’s determination to site a Holocaust Memorial and learning centre there succeeds. Gerhold, like most of the opponents of the scheme including many Jewish people, is in favour of a memorial but argues why would you destroy a lovely park if there were more suitable places nearby?

 

The Memorial and Learning Centre, he argues, would occupy 27% of the accessible and usable green space in the gardens, but would “more than treble the number of people in the gardens at any one time”. After rejecting (or ignoring ?) many other sites that would better fulfill the original Holocaust Commission requirements and been able to accommodate these large visitor numbers, the Government's solution – conjured out of nowhere by David Cameron, was that it should be next to Parliament. But as the author points out there is no reason to have it there. The government wasn’t complicit in the Holocaust unlike the slave trade which is remembered in the same gardens by the Buxton Fountain.

Gerhold is devastating on the procedures adopted, from the cronyism involved in the original suggestion, to the Government “calling in" the plans after discovering that the (Conservative) Westminster Council was likely to reject them.

 

They are now being considered by an inspector but the final decision is normally made by a government minister. However, the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick has had to recuse himself as his objectivity has been impaired by his emphasis that the government remains “implacably committed“ to the project. The decision has been delegated to one of his junior ministers but as Gerhold says: “Is it credible that an impartial, unbiased decision can be made by a junior minister when both his Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have emphasised their continuing commitment to the project ?"

This is but part of a battalion of arguments he brings to justify his conclusion: “A beautiful and irreplaceable park, enjoyed by residents, workers and tourists for more than a century, would in effect be destroyed”.

 

To purchase, please CLICK HERE to be redirected to eBay.  You do not need to have an eBay account, you can Check Out as a Guest.  Alternatively, please send £12 + £3 p&p per copy; cheques made payable to 'The Thorney Island Society' to TTIS, 10 Old Pye Street, London SW1P 2DG with your name and address.  

 

 What the Memorial Planning Inquiry needs to know about Victoria Tower Gardens.