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Westminster Society to UKHMF


Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chairman
UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation
35 Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BQ

2 February 2017


Dear Sir Peter,

Thank you for your reply to our Honorary Secretary Peter Handley’s letter expressing some of the reservations the Westminster Society has about the choice of site for the otherwise laudable idea of a UK holocaust memorial.  We have decided to write to you again because the Holocaust Memorial Foundation has now published its shortlisted design proposals, and our own executive committee’s planners and architects continue to believe that the choice of site is neglectful and shortsighted.

The neglectful aspect is that Victoria Tower Gardens will essentially cease to exist as a park when it is dominated by the memorial.  Our Society holds to the sovereign urban amenity principle that parks should not become convenient building sites.  If a public or private body backs a proposed development that has social or cultural importance, it ought to support that with the acquisition cost of urban land at the going rate, not take it as a free subtraction from the value and territory of an existing park.  Small parks near centres of high activity have particular charms of serenity that are vital for urban well-being, and Victoria Tower Gardens is now warmly regarded and indeed loved for that. 

As we now see in the shortlisted preliminary design proposals, expressive differences notwithstanding, the park would be swallowed up.  Given the brief, there was no way that an inspiring and well designed holocaust memorial could do less than command the available park dimensions in anticipating the attraction of the large numbers of visitors that holocaust memorials draw.  Indeed, the most perceptive designs in the group have understood that during all opening hours there will be many hundreds of visitors, queues, and by tacit extension, a congestion of coaches that are discharging and collecting groups of people.  The idea that this could be accommodated with the required security measures and traffic space along Millbank within a hundred meters or so of Parliament is beyond reasonable imagination.  If the invited design competitors have not themselves expressed these reservations about the choice of site, it must only be out of deferential tact.

What alternatives are there for a suitable holocaust memorial site?  Some part of the large plot of the Imperial War Museum, where there is already a holocaust exhibit, is an obvious one.  If that seems not geographically prominent enough, a site that strikes us as promising is Waterloo Place, SW1.  If the designated site was close to the Duke of York Steps, access to an underground holocaust museum from The Mall, through or alongside the steps, would be an intelligent and practical proposition if the basements under Waterloo Place could be acquired.  The museum could have several levels before ending with a suitably inspiring monument above, near Carlton House Terrace.

In sum, we believe the Holocaust Memorial Foundation and its supporters should think again about the choice of this site and its abiding problems for the UK memorial.

Yours sincerely,

Olwen Rowlands