Jewish heritage activist Dr Sharman Kadish has called on the government to rethink plans to withdraw VAT exemption on repairs to listed buildings, claiming it would hinder the preservation of old synagogues.
She said the measure would have "a detrimental effect on historic synagogues - and churches - which want to improve their facilities by installing toilets, kitchens and disability access, which are vital in keeping these buildings in use".
Added Dr Kadish, the founding director of Jewish Heritage: "It is bad enough that the guaranteed 100 per cent reimbursement of VAT on government-funded repair grants was withdrawn last year. In general, it is invidious that VAT is charged on repairs to old buildings but not on new-build projects. This merely encourages developers to demolish rather than to invest in regeneration, which is greener and makes economic sense."
At Plymouth Synagogue - which celebrates its 250th anniversary later this month - treasurer Dr Peter Lee said: "As an independent community, we have to raise money to do everything." The VAT change "would be a major burden. The biggest impact would be on small communities."
Fortunately, the synagogue, which has around 50 members, completed major structural repairs to its roof and a wall a few years ago.
Another 18th-century synagogue, Sandys Row in London's East End, has just carried out a £500,000 restoration. Board member Jack Gilbert said that if the new VAT rules had been implemented "we would have to find at least another £80,000, possibly more." He criticised the government for "chopping and changing" the regulations.
Howard Miller, chief executive of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, said VAT exemption had saved the community "quite a lot of money" on the last repair of the roof of Britain's oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks in the City. The congregation also has another listed building, Lauderdale Road Synagogue in Maida Vale.
Around 30 synagogues are housed in listed buildings and there are numerous other listed sites of Jewish interest. Three present or former synagogue buildings are identified as "at risk" by Jewish Heritage.