Sir Derek Jacobi: ‘I’m disappointed £12m South Hampstead Synagogue plans were approved’

Artists impression for the new South Hampstead Synagogue

Artists impression for the new South Hampstead Synagogue - Credit: Archant

Renowned actor Sir Derek Jacobi has spoken of his disappointment after planning permission was granted for a controversial £12million synagogue expansion likened to a “giant box burrowed into the hillside”.

Sir Derek Jacobi arriving at the premiere of 'Morris, A Life With Bells On', at The Prince Charles C

Sir Derek Jacobi arriving at the premiere of 'Morris, A Life With Bells On', at The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday, 24th September 2009. Photo credit should read: Ian West/PA Wire - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Camden councillors granted planning permission to demolish the existing South Hampstead Synagogue in Eton Villas and replace it with a new place of worship two-and-a-half times its size, at Camden Town Hall last Thursday.

Hundreds drew battle lines in the row over plans to create a four-storey synagogue with extended basement to provide extra Sunday school classrooms and more room for community celebrations.

Those opposed included Sir Derek, while Lord Levy, close friend of former prime minister Tony Blair, was among the 669 people who wrote to Camden Council in support of the project.

Sir Derek told the Ham&High: “Essentially, planning permission has been granted for a private social club with a synagogue attached. The area of worship, or ‘church’ part, is no bigger than the current size.

“I have always valued Camden’s ongoing commitment to equality, inclusivity, tolerance and progress, but I find it difficult to understand why Camden have approved the application for this non-inclusive multiplex, better suited to a city centre.”

Rabbi Shlomo Levin, senior rabbi at South Hampstead Synagogue, said he hopes to build bridges in a community left divided over the plans.

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He said: “I hope it is the right decision for us and for Camden.

“I understand the opposition of the neighbours and certainly we need to build bridges with them and reconnect with them as best we can going forward.”

Rabbi Levin told the planning committee he had been “surprised and disappointed” by the 449 objections to the proposals. Among chief concerns were the “fortress-like” designs and the creation of a “traffic and car parking nightmare”.

Resident Martin Robson, who spoke in objection to the proposals on Thursday, compared the designs to “a giant box burrowed deep into the hillside”.

It is thought the project, designed by architects Allies and Morrison, will take two years to complete and will start towards the end of next year.

Rabbi Levin said: “We are really bursting at the gills, so it will give us the opportunity to provide the same kind of activities as we always have done, but with a much greater sense of space.”