Council rejects Cambridge synagogue's rebuilding plan after neighbours' objections

Supporters of the Thompsons Lane congregation said the project would make 'a positive contribution' to the area. Local residents raised concerns about the impact of a larger building on their gardens


Plans to demolish and rebuild a Cambridge synagogue have been unanimously rejected by councillors after concerns were raised by local residents.

An application had been submitted to Cambridge City Council by the trustees of the Cambridge University Jewish Society (CUJS) to redevelop the synagogue and community facility in Thompsons Lane.

The current premises were described as “inadequate” and no longer fit for purpose. Supporters said the new building would make a “positive contribution to Thompsons Lane”.

But neighbouring residents objected to the plans, raising concerns about the impact of a larger building on their gardens — and particularly on the sunlight reaching homes in nearby Portugal Place.

Council planning officers had recommended that the proposals be approved but recognised that the changes would have an impact on local properties.

In a report, officers suggested the “harm” to neighbours should be balanced against the wider community benefits arising from the new premises.

Under the plans, the building would have wrapped around the rear of the Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts on a similar footprint to the existing synagogue, albeit enlarged and extended.

A meeting of the council’s planning committee heard representations from both supporters and objectors.

Some councillors agreed that it was a “difficult project to understand” without a model of the plans to show how it would relate to the neighbouring houses.

Councillor Katie Porrer said she was “supportive of the general principle” of the development but had concerns about the first floor extension.

Councillor Martin Smart did not think the proposed design was “attractive”, adding that the “roofscape” looked “bulky”. Under the plans, the building “turns its back on Portugal Place” rather than “smile” on it, he argued.

The applicants estimated a local Jewish student population of 1,200, 300 of whom are registered with the Jewish society. A significant number participate in activities at the synagogue.
Efforts to renew the synagogue date back a decade with three pre-applications to the city council in 2011, 2015 and 2018, as well as public consultations in 2018 and 2019.

A CUJS spokesperson told the JC that the Jewish society respected “the process involved in gaining planning permission and understand that residents have concerns.

“Although we would have welcomed the go-ahead to build the facilities the Cambridge Jewish community needs and deserves, we will continue to work with the council and our neighbours to produce a plan that works for everyone.”

CUJS owns the building and has been liaising with “the community, alumni and generous donors” to make its plans come to fruition.

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