Plans to build a new youth centre and synagogue with flats to help finance the scheme have been rejected.
Barnet councillors made the decision after town hall planning chiefs raised multiple concerns over the proposed development in Alba Gardens, Golders Green, which was designed to provide better facilities for the Jewish group Ezra Youth Movement.
Plans for the site involved demolishing the existing two-storey building used by the organisation to make way for a four-storey development containing a new youth centre and synagogue. On the second and third floors, the developer wanted to build three flats to help finance the scheme, while the top-floor flat would be occupied by the youth movement’s caretaker.
Barnet Council received 134 letters in support of the plans and one objection. But although planning officers supported upgrading the youth centre, they recommended the scheme for refusal when it was presented to a planning committee meeting on Wednesday.
Outlining their concerns, officers said it would be an overdevelopment, fail to provide enough private amenity space and overlook neighbours. They also criticised the lack of a travel plan and a failure to show the scheme would not lead to an “unacceptable” loss of daylight and sunlight.
Planning chiefs added that the applicant had not provided a financial viability report to show that the flats were necessary. An officer told the meeting: “We are not convinced that any residential development is required for the delivery of the community centre here on site.”
Speaking in support of the plans, Rabbi Yoni Golker told the committee the building was “urgently in need of modernisation” to create a “fit-for-purpose” youth centre and synagogue. Under questioning from councillors, he insisted the flats would “allow the sustainability of the youth movement for generations to come”.
Norman Bloom, a local resident, said neighbours believed the building was a “modern design” that would enhance the street’s appearance.
Cllr Dean Cohen, a councillor for Golders Green, said there was already a four-storey block at the start of Alba Gardens, contradicting a line in the report by officers stating that the street is “solely characterised by single-family two-storey residential dwellings”.
He added that the conditions of the existing centre were poor and that “Ezra’s youth, the local community’s youth and Barnet’s youth deserve better”.
Eli Pick, representing developer Devonshire Metro, claimed planning officers’ statements were “factually wrong, contradictory and inconsistent”. He said the council had approved “much larger projects”, including nearby Swan Court.
Mr Pick said there was “no overshadowing, no loss of light”, and the scheme would cause “no harm to [neighbours’] amenity”. Other concerns could be addressed via a Section 106 agreement, he claimed.
Council officers defended their statements under questioning from the committee. They said there would be overlooking because proposed distances from a neighbouring building were 12 metres, which is below the 21m considered acceptable under planning policies. Officers said there were no on-site proposals to offset the “severe underprovision of private amenity space”.
Planning chiefs insisted they had made clear in preliminary meetings with the applicant that a four-storey building would be too high for the site and suggested the developer look again at the advice they had provided about what sort of scheme would be acceptable.
After the debate, three committee members voted to refuse the scheme, with three abstentions.