No one sensible doubts that the UK shouldn’t have a central Holocaust memorial and learning centre. The question is: should it be in Victoria Tower Gardens, as proposed and supported by major Jewish organisations?
As someone who cycles or walks past Victoria Tower Gardens on a fairly regular basis, I believe, however, that it is the wrong memorial in the wrong place.
Taste is a very personal issue. However, every time I see the diagrams of the proposed memorial, I cannot help but think that it looks like a part of Dippy the Diplodocus that has made a run for it after its removal from the Natural History Museum.
But more seriously, the positioning of the memorial is of great concern.
Victoria Tower Gardens is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a large plot of land. It stretches from the Houses of Parliament to Lambeth Bridge, which can’t be much more than 200 metres.
It has a riverside path, with arresting views of… St Thomas’s Hospital, the Old County Hall, Lambeth Palace and, if you strain your neck, Westminster Bridge and the London Eye.
And vehicle; many, many cars, buses, lorries and emergency vehicles with sirens going all the time. The road adjacent to the gardens, Millbank, is always buzzing with traffic. And I mean 24/7. A place for quiet contemplation it is not.
It also has a playground for kids (at the Lambeth Bridge end) and limited grass area which already has its fill of memorials.
However, the nature, ambient noise and size of Victoria Tower Gardens are not the main problems. It goes far deeper than that.
Anyone who has worked or travelled through London for the past nine years will have noticed the growing problem of homelessness, brought on largely by the government’s austerity programme and the breakdown of social services nationwide.
If you walk down the Strand or along Whitehall at any time of the day you cannot help but notice these destitute and ill people who have set up – if they’re lucky – sleeping areas in doorways.
Some, such as some homeless people under the arches next to Waterstones on Trafalgar Square, have even pitched tents. They’re the lucky ones, since not long ago, one homeless man died in the cold not 50 metres from the Houses of Parliament. That is a national disgrace.
So, a large memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens would, unfortunately, be a magnet for these poor people, as it offers shelter and a certain amount of protection from the elements.
This begs the question, who will pay for the policing of the memorial/learning centre? And who will ensure that it will be kept clean. I am not accusing homeless people of being dirty, but humans leave detritus.
All in all, therefore, I do not think Victoria Tower Gardens is the place for such a structure, commemorating such a massive event.
There is an alternative, not two kilometres from Parliament, and that is the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. It already has a highly regarded Holocaust exhibition which can be expanded and runs hugely successful programmes on the issue.
It also has ample space in its gardens for a memorial the size of the one proposed for Victoria Tower Gardens and it is a very quiet place, despite the proximity of two main roads.
If the government’s going to spend £100 million on a memorial/learning centre, that’s where it needs to be.