Bobovs win fight to turn pub into a shul

Disappointed: pro-Swan campaigners Sasha Johnson and Glyn Harries, at Hackney Town Hall on Wednesday

Disappointed: pro-Swan campaigners Sasha Johnson and Glyn Harries, at Hackney Town Hall on Wednesday

Plans to convert a pub into a synagogue for a strictly Orthodox community have been approved by councillors after a year-long battle to resolve the building’s future.

The Swan pub in Stamford Hill, north London, closed in January after members of the Bobov community bought it for around £1 million.

Councillors granted change-of-use planning permission at a meeting on Wednesday night, despite a campaign by residents to stop the conversion going ahead.

The Bobov application for a 1,500 sq metre centre, which will include a shul, library and community offices, was supported by more than 850 people who wrote to Hackney Council backing the plans.

Around 600 of the letters came from members of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations.

Supporters wrote that the centre would “significantly contribute to the wider public in Stamford Hill” and would improve the area “immensely” by “promoting safety and well-being”.

The council received 32 objections from neighbours and six others from people outside Hackney.

Their complaints included the loss of the pub as a community facility, the fear that the new building would only be available for use by the Jewish community, and increases in noise and traffic.

The new Bobov owners have already installed tenants in the upper floors of the pub to deter squatters.

Speaking at the meeting, Save the Swan campaigner Glyn Harries said: “The Swan was a viable 250-year-old pub. It was not a backstreet boozer. It was a unique venue where all people came together. Its loss will be a blow to the area.

“Our campaign was talking to the applicants about re-opening the pub as a community facility — but they rudely cut off contact with us.”

Bobov spokesman Solomon Goldman claimed to councillors that the turnover at the pub had dropped dramatically, forcing its closure.

In fact, the very distinct religious character of the area may have led to the Swan’s demise. Very few religious Jews, the primary local residents, used the pub, although occasionally some younger Charedim watched football there.

Mr Goldman accused objectors of being “anti-religion”.

He said: “A lot of pubs are shutting down because of the smoking ban and changing trends. We did not try to take the pub away from anyone. We want to live in peace with everyone.”

Supporting the move for change of use, architect James Parrit said the community centre could be used by people of all religions and claimed that part of the basement could be hired out for community functions.

Chanoch Kesselman, executive co-ordinator of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, said: “The Bobov shul is affiliated to the UOHC. Now that it will be a shul and a place of learning it’s going to raise the spiritual atmosphere of the area.

“The local Jewish community is very pleased that the Bobovs were tenacious with their application for this.”

    Last updated: 10:47am, September 3 2009