For full details see the planning application on the Council’s website : Ref. BH2018/02126
The proposals are to demolish the existing synagogue hall and a pair of detached villas which currently provide residential accommodation for the Rabbi, the synagogue social hall and a children’s nursery.
It is proposed to build a larger, mixed use development on the site comprising community facilities, which include a replacement children’s nursery, two classrooms for use by St. Christopher’s School next door, start-up office space/meeting rooms and a café, an underground car park, and 45 residential dwellings for members of the Jewish community. These facilities are to be accommodated in three new much taller buildings than those currently on the site. The new single-storey synagogue will be much smaller than the existing one.
The three new taller buildings are: a six-storey block on the west side of the site, and a five storey building on the east, right up against the boundary of the Pembroke and Princes Conservation Area; at the rear of the site, just to the south of Carmel House, is a four-storey residential block running east-west. The new synagogue is located between the six and five storey buildings.
Relationship with adjacent buildings and the Pembroke and Princes Conservation Area
How do these new proposals relate to the existing streetscape along that section of New Church Road?
The key point is that the site is bordered on the east by the red-brick villas within the Pembroke and Princes Conservation Area, and to the west by the locally listed St Christopher’s School. And just to the west of St Christopher’s is the locally listed Aldrington House. So on both sides of this sensitive site are recognised heritage assets. This should prevent the likelihood of any significant new developments changing the scale and appearance of those adjacent sites over the considerable length of New Church Road within which this site is situated.
It is important therefore that any new development located between all these recognised heritage assets respects the scale and character of the existing streetscape. This proposal does not.
Scale and character
The situation of this site requires a more sympathetic approach to the scale, height and architectural vocabulary of this scheme. It should definitely not take its architectural precedents from the taller blocks of flats further to the west and east of the site – as argued in the Design and Access Statement – but must take its references from those lower buildings with heritage importance on both sides of the site.
For example, we think that both the east and west wings should be the same height as each other and be no higher than 4 storeys maximum – the top floor being a ‘room in the roof’ or attic within a steeply pitched roof form, to relate to the pitched roofs of the villas immediately to the east, and that of St Christopher’s School to the west. The north wing too should be similar in height and form – which would then relate much more comfortably to Carmel House immediately to the north of the site.
The Synagogue building itself is not an issue, though one could question whether its resemblance to a wire cage is entirely appropriate.
It is so substantially different in function and scale to the other buildings on the site, it can stand alone as a separate visual and functional element.
In terms of materials, the main features of the villas within the Conservation Area are predominantly red brick, white painted timber and tiled roofs; those of St Christopher’s School are white render and grey slate. These materials should form the basis of the palette of materials to be used for the Synagogue site’s main buildings.
The Conservation Character Statement is quite clear what the characteristics of the Conservation Area are: “…substantial buildings that exhibit the use of red brick contrasted with extensive use of white painted exterior timber and the overwhelming predominance of the plain red tiles.”
Any proposal as close as this one is to the Conservation Area must recognise this and pick up these important references.
It is disappointing that Morgan Carn, the architects, have not come up with a more sympathetic design.
They have previously shown they are capable of inserting appropriately scaled new buildings into sensitive situations in Conservation Areas – for instance their proposals for the Hannington’s site, and for 79 West Street (see on right), both of which are in the Old Town Conservation Area.
The proposals for the Synagogue site are unsympathetic, out of scale and need a re-think.