Plans to open place of worship at former Golders Green theatre deferred
A bid to turn a former theatre into an Islamic place of worship has been delayed to allow councillors to gain more information about the scheme’s impact.
Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami, a charity, applied to Barnet Council to turn the Grade 2-listed Hippodrome in North End Road, Golders Green, into a place of worship and a community centre.
Planning officers at the council recommended giving the go-ahead to the change, claiming in their report that the public benefits would outweigh the harm to residents.
But at a meeting of the council’s strategic planning committee on Monday, councillors deferred a decision on the application to obtain more information on parking, traffic management, noise and crowd control.
Built in 1913 as a music hall and “theatre of varieties”, the Hippodrome, which lies within Golders Green Conservation Area, was bought by the BBC in the 1960s and used as a concert and rehearsal venue for the BBC Concert Orchestra until 2003.
In 2007 the building was sold to a church organisation and the council granted permission for it to be used as a church, as well as for concerts, conferences, drama and dance festivals.
Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami bought the building in 2017 and has been using it since then. After the council served an enforcement notice for a planning breach, the charity applied last year for the building’s use to be widened from “church” to “place of worship”. Barnet Council received 902 objections and 756 letters in support of the application.
Paul Mew, a traffic consultant appointed by a local residents’ group, told the planning meeting an increase in visitors to the Hippodrome would lead to a “severe impact on congestion and parking” and “potential road safety issues”.
A planning report states that the venue would attract “80 and 100 visitors on some evenings and very few on others”, adding that this could rise to 500 visitors for certain events and a maximum of 1,400 during festivals.
Under questioning from councillors, Paul admitted the site, which is next to a bus and tube station, was “well served” by public transport, but pointed out that an assessment showed 37% of the visitors to the place of worship would use cars.
Speaking in favour of the application, Tamara Joseph, chair of Finchley Progressive Synagogue, claimed some people had sought to “whip up opposition to this application because they are hostile to Islam” and told councillors they had an opportunity “to send a clear message that all faiths are truly welcome here”.
London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden Anne Clarke also spoke in support, saying the Markhaz “deserves the warmth, the welcome, and the respect that all communities should feel in Barnet”.
Planning agent Richard Evans said using the venue as a concert hall or church would lead to “greater average vehicle trip rates” than the proposed place of worship. He also pointed out the site is in a town centre and has “the best public transport accessibility level”.
Richard told councillors a travel plan, cycle parking, and the extension of a controlled parking zone had been proposed to reduce the impact on neighbours.
After questioning the planning agent, committee chair Eva Greenspan proposed deferring the application to allow a parking and traffic management plan, a crowd control plan, noise management plan and events management plan to be brought to a future meeting.
Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors voted against, but Conservatives Melvin Cohen, Julian Teare, Reuben Thompstone, Golnar Bokaei and Thomas Smith voted in favour. Helene Richman, another Conservative, abstained.
Labour’s Tim Roberts claimed this was “setting a new precedent” and the committee “had never done that before”, but Cllr Cohen argued it was “not unusual for matters to come back to the committee”.
The application is expected to be brought back to the committee with the extra information on 30th November.