Landlord wins High Court date over 'synagogue' conversion

The owners of a north London house accused of unlawfully turning it into a synagogue have won the go-ahead to bring a High Court challenge against an enforcement notice stating that they must change it back and demolish an unauthorised extension.

High Court judge Mr Justice Eady ruled earlier this week that Satmar Ltd had an arguable case in its challenge to a planning inspector’s decision to uphold an enforcement notice issued by the London Borough of Hackney in respect of the property at 57 Bethune Road, London, NE16.
The enforcement notice, issued in July 2011, alleged an unlawful change of use of the dwelling house to use as a synagogue and erection of a single storey extension to the rear of the property.
The council gave Satmar three months to permanently remove the unauthorised rear extension and restore the rear of the property to its former condition, to cease use of the property as a synagogue, to completely remove all equipment, partitions and walls that enabled such use and to return the property to its previous use as a single family dwelling.
The inspector rejected its appeal, although he extended the compliance period to six months.
The company claims that the property is in mixed use as a house and as a "shtiebel" – a small place of worship where only limited activities take place – and has been since 1948. They claimed that, as a result, it is now too late for the council to take enforcement action.
However, the inspector found that a shtiebel is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as a "small synagogue", that between 15 and 20 people attend regular prayer meetings there, while, on the Sabbath, there may be up to 50.
He found that there had been a material change in the use of the premises to sole primary use as a place of worship after the present owners bought it in late 2006 or early 2007.
As a result, he found that the ten-year period for immunity from planning control had not been proven in respect of the use as a synagogue.
Though a lesser four-year period applies to building works, he found that, on the balance of probabilities, the extension was substantially completed after 13 July 2007, and so was also not immune.
Rejecting the appeal, the planning inspector said: "I conclude that the alleged change of use has caused the loss of a dwellinghouse in an area where there is a proven need for housing and especially for homes that are suitable for families. There may also be a demand for a synagogue but the need for such a facility at this site is unsubstantiated."

Now though the go-ahead has been given for Satmar to challenge that decision at a full High Court hearing. No date has yet been fixed for the hearing. Satmar hopes to win a ruling forcing the secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles, to have its case reconsidered.

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