Hackney synagogue forced to demolish site

Part of a Stoke Newington synagogue has been demolished by bulldozers after community leaders conceded defeat in a nine-year planning row with council chiefs.

The Portakabin annexe at the Torah Etz Chaim shul in Lordship Road was demolished after a court ordered trustees to remove the temporary structure. The building had been used as an overflow for services for the 320-member Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregation and for children’s activities since 1997.

When planning permission expired in 2000, Hackney Council opened an enforcement case after the shul’s board failed to remove the Portakabin. After a subsequent application to retain the building was refused in 2007, the council served an enforcement notice. The owners were given a further opportunity to remove it at the end of 2008, but after they again failed to do so the council began full legal proceedings.

During a court case two months ago the shul finally agreed to demolish the cabin and bulldozers began work on the site a fortnight ago. They finished the demolition on Sunday, at a cost to the shul of around £20,000.

A shul spokesman claimed the council had pushed for the removal after coming under pressure from local residents’ groups. He said: “The council did not make a fuss about it for years. We asked for a bit more time. In the end the court order was slapped on us.” He said an application for full planning permission for the site has been sent to the council with a view to redeveloping the shul. The temporary building would eventually have been knocked down to make way for the new, permanent structure, he added.

Former Hackney borough mayor Joe Lobenstein voiced his concerns about the demolition, comparing the council’s actions to the destruction of synagogues in Nazi Germany. He said: “Destroying a synagogue building does not promote harmony. A little more patience and understanding by Hackney Council would have helped to solve the problem peacefully.”

But the council denied it had acted unfairly. A spokeswoman said: “We gave the land owner ample time to remove the portable building. Only after repeated attempts to negotiate its removal did the council take enforcement action.”

    Last updated: 3:58pm, December 10 2009