The fate of a proposed £100m Holocaust memorial in the heart of Westminster is hanging in the balance following a major political fallout.
The memorial, which has been widely backed by MPs and will also include a learning centre, has been proposed for Victoria Tower Gardens on Milbank, a world heritage site.
Despite broad support from MPs, including former Labour MP Luciana Berger, the former leader of the Green party Caroline Lucas and Conservative Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, Westminster council said the application was heading towards an “unfavourable recommendation” due to opposition from nearby residents.
Former Labour minister Ed Balls and former Tory minister Lord Eric Pickles, who co-chair the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Foundation, said they were “both surprised and concerned” at the council’s suggestion that the planning application could be refused.
In a letter exchange released under Freedom of Information laws, Balls and Pickles accuse the council of giving “undue weight” to the number of objections on its planning portal.
“This is contrary to good practice and proper administration,” they wrote. “Were this the case, then planning authorities would have neither purpose nor function. Instead a simple plebiscite could be organised on each application. Under such a system few things would be built.”
They said their concerns were reinforced by “the number of antisemitic remarks that have been allowed to remain on the planning portal for far too long”.
Westminster Council leader Nickie Aitken said she “profoundly refutes the very serious and wholly unfounded allegations about the operation of the planning service in the City of Westminster”.
“As highly experienced national politicians, I am extremely disappointed with your irresponsible and frankly offensive assertions.”
The memorial was first proposed by former Prime Minister David Cameron on 27 January 2016, to mark Holocaust memorial day. It has since received the backing of four living Prime Ministers – including Sir John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown – and Theresa May, who pledged a further £25m towards the project in May.
Aitken said residents had raised concerns about the development of Victoria Tower Gardens – which features monuments such as Auguste Rodin’s Burghers of Calais and the Buxton Memorial to mark the abolition of slavery – as well as trees and highways.
“As such, given this range of issues, it was advised that the application was heading towards an unfavourable recommendation. It is difficult to see how your advisors were able to give you the impression that it was the number of objections that was the primary concern, given the breadth of the other matters discussed.”
A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: “The leader of the council, Nickie Aiken, has responded to the concerns raised in the letter and made very clear that this application, like all that come before the authority, will be made on planning grounds after careful assessment of all the representations received. No decision has been taken.”