Synagogues' appeal on cemetery space

Four synagogue groups appealing to overturn a decision against extending a north London Jewish cemetery have urged an inquiry to consider the "historical circumstances" of the community.

Liberal Judaism, West London Synagogue, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation and Belsize Square Synagogue are making their case over Edgwarebury Lane cemetery to a four-day Planning Inspectorate hearing at Hendon Town Hall.

Last October, Barnet councillors rejected expansion plans after objections from environmentalists who said the plans were visually detrimental and would ruin the homes of bats and rare falcons.

At the outset of the hearing on Tuesday, the synagogues pointed out that some sections of the cemetery would be full in under five years.

On behalf of the shuls, Sasha White said: "It is imperative that all of us can choose to be buried in a manner consistent with our religious beliefs. Those factors are of special importance when one is dealing with a section of society who have been the victims of much oppression and persecution.

"Belsize Square Synagogue was formed by those who literally fled another country for their lives. The stories of that community and its suffering are almost beyond imagination. This country gave those people a home in life. We now need to give them a continued home in death."

For the local planning authority, Alex Booth accepted "that, so far as is responsible, society does bury people in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs. Further, it is obviously desirable that society buries individuals in their preferred location. However, the use of the word 'imperative' is inappropriate.

"There is no absolute right for members of any religious group to be buried in any particular location and in a society such as ours where space is at a premium and we are competing on available land, it is inevitable that a degree of compromise is necessary".

Eric Moonman, co-president of the Zionist Federation and a Belsize Square Synagogue member, attacked Mr Booth's comments as "repugnant".

The inquiry also heard from Clive Cohen, joint vice-chairman of the London Wildlife Trust.

A decision is expected within seven weeks.

    Last updated: 1:55pm, July 1 2010