A controversial Holocaust memorial and education centre is to be built in the heart of Westminster at a cost of more than £100m after the government gave it the go-ahead following a public inquiry.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the decision, saying there was “something uniquely powerful about locating a memorial to the Holocaust right next to the centre of the UK’s democracy”.
But many objections to the proposal, including from Westminster city council, local community groups and some Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors, were raised at the six-week inquiry last year.
Chris Pincher, the planning minister, backed the conclusions of the inquiry, which delivered its report to the government in April, although it was only published this week.
In a letter announcing the decision on Thursday, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said Pincher “agrees with the inspector that the location next to the Palace of Westminster would offer a powerful associative message in itself, which is consistent with that of the memorial of its immediate and wider context”.
There would be a “modest loss of open space and functionality” within Victoria Tower Gardens, the location of the memorial and learning centre, but the positives outweighed the negatives, the ministry said.
The memorial scheme was initiated by David Cameron in 2013, and a competition to design it attracted some of the world’s leading architecture and design consortiums. A team led by Sir David Adjaye was chosen to design the project.
The learning centre will showcase the testimonies of 112 Holocaust survivors, recorded specially for the memorial. As well as the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, the memorial will commemorate the persecution and deaths of Roma, gay and disabled people.
Three Holocaust survivors – Sir Ben Helfgott, Lily Ebert and Susan Pollack – celebrated the government’s decision at a small ceremony in Victoria Tower Gardens.
Former MPs Ed Balls and Eric Pickles, who co-chaired the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, also attended, along with the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick.
Jenrick, who recused himself from the decision after publicly backing the plans, received death threats and antisemitic abuse over the memorial plans. He is married to the daughter of Holocaust survivors and his children are being brought up as Jewish.
The memorial would “allow everyone to reflect, remember and honour those who suffered and died and to educate future generations in anti-Semitism, where, if unchecked, antisemitism and hatred can lead,” he said on Thursday.
Helfgott said: “Holocaust survivors like me came to the UK after liberation, and we made Britain our home; British forces liberated my sister at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The Holocaust is part of British history.
Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies, said: “While the Holocaust was a particular crime against Jewish people, the Nazis also viciously persecuted Roma, gay and disabled people, and this memorial will speak to that. The messages and learnings that one should glean from its memorialisation are a powerful reminder of the universal values of fairness and justice that a democratic society has the responsibility to bestow upon its citizens.”
“I am proud that the [memorial] is being built, in the heart of our country, so it can be visited by millions. I know that long after I, and the other survivors, are gone, the UK will continue to remember the Holocaust and learn what happens when hatred reigned.”
But opponents of the plan were dismayed by the decision. The crossbench peer Ruth Deech, whose father fled the Nazis, said the decision was divisive. “Last autumn’s public inquiry raised serious concerns about the plans’ impact on heritage and a valuable public park, as well as raising issues of flood risk, security and damage to mature trees.
“We passionately believe that the Holocaust should be remembered, but we believe that this ill-considered and damaging proposal will do a disservice to victims and survivors, and little to enhance understanding and respect.”
Save Victoria Tower Gardens, a group that campaigned against the proposal, condemned the decision. It argued that open space in the area should be protected as a local amenity, and that the need for security would add to congestion. It said it may appeal against the decision.
Construction of the memorial is expected to begin next year and be completed by 2025.