High court quashes synagogue flats bid

Blackpool United Hebrew Synagogue, which developers hope to convert into five flats.
Blackpool United Hebrew Synagogue, which developers hope to convert into five flats.

Blackpool Council has won a High Court bid to block the development of a Grade II-listed synagogue – at least for now.

Town hall officials challenged a government planning inspector’s decision to allow Thompson Property Investments to convert part of the United Hebrew Synagogue, in Leamington Road, central Blackpool.

The fight was fought in Manchester after the developer successfully appealed against the council’s initial decision to refuse permission.

It was there Mr Justice Kerr ruled the development would prove detrimental to such a culturally-important building.

He said: “It is a heritage asset of historic and architectural significance.

“I accept that the council’s application is well-founded, and I will quash the inspector’s decision.”

The case will now be reheard by a different planning inspector.

Coun Lynn Williams, chairman of Blackpool Council’s planning committee, said: “The synagogue is an historically-important building that contributes to this town’s wealth of heritage.

“Planning officers were concerned that these plans didn’t protect the historical significance of the synagogue enough and could have led to the loss of important stained glass and the deterioration of the prayer hall.

“As such, the planning committee refused permission based on their recommendations.

“While our original decision was overturned by the Planning Inspectorate, we are pleased that the High Court has quashed that decision and we will be making our case to protect the synagogue when the appeal is reheard.”

The former place of worship, built between 1916 and 1926 and featuring distinctive Accrington brick, was bought by Thompson Property Investments in 2012, before being placed back on the market for £130,000 a year later.

The firm wanted to convert buildings at the rear of the site into five luxury apartments.

The idea was criticised by Jewish Heritage, with Dr Sharman Kadish telling The Gazette it was on the group’s list as one of 10 former UK synagogues which ought to be preserved.

She said: “Ideally we would like to see it preserved, possibly used as a holiday facility.

“We are not against flats on the site but we think revenue from the flats should be used for the upkeep of the synagogue.”

Elaine Smith, from Blackpool’s Civic Trust, said it was one of the most important architectural buildings in the town.

She said: “It has the most beautiful stained glass, among the best I have ever seen.”

Mr Justice Kerr said plans to reduce the floor space and move stained glass windows would be harmful in their current form.

“It is difficult to see how you preserve a building by reducing its floor space and moving or removing its historic stained glass windows,” he added.