Victoria Tower Gardens lie on the banks of the Thames to the south of and immediately adjacent to the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey UNESCO World Heritage Site and to the Palace of Westminster itself, a Grade I listed building. 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 statutorily listed buildings: Rodin’s Burghers of Calais (Grade I), the Buxton Memorial Fountain (Grade II*) and the Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst Memorial (Grade II*).
A design competition was launched in September 2016 and in October 2017 it was announced that Adjaye Associates, Ron Arad Architects and the landscape architects Gustafson Porter + Bowman had been selected to design the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre.
In January 2019, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, made an application to Westminster City Council for planning permission for the proposals. They were then “called in” determination by the Secretary of State, rather than leaving the application to be determined by the City Council.
Concerns were raised about the lawfulness of the decision making procedure given that the applicant for the planning permission was the decision maker on his own application and therefore ‘a judge in his own cause’. This was against the background of many statements about the Government’s, the Prime Minister’s and the Secretary of State’s firm commitment to the development proposed in Victoria Tower Gardens being carried out.
The Secretary of State published “handling arrangements” for the determination of the application in hopes of dispelling concerns arising from this apparent conflict of interest. The arrangements were challenged by judicial review and new handling arrangements put in place, see London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government  EWHC 2580 (Admin).
A call-in inquiry was held virtually over five weeks in October-November 2020. It was the longest and most complex of PINS’ remotely hosted inquiries and involved hundreds of participants, including two former Prime Ministers, the current and immediate past Archbishops of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and a range of former Cabinet ministers, academics and broadcasters as well as members of the public and local residents.
The inquiry raised a range of difficult issues including how the terrible events of the Holocaust should be memorialised in the UK and how that objective was to be balanced against the sensitive heritage and other implications of locating the Memorial and Learning Centre in a public park adjacent to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Inspector on the inquiry recommended the grant of planning permission and that recommendation was accepted. That decision was challenged in the High Court on heritage balance and other grounds. The claim was ultimately allowed on the basis of the proposals’ conflict with the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 which requires that Victoria Tower Gardens are “maintained… as a garden... open to the public”, see London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust v Minister of State for Housing  EWHC 829 (Admin).
FTB members were involved on both sides in the inquiry and in the two judicial reviews.
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