PLANNING permission for a controversial Jewish cemetery expansion onto green belt land has been approved by an independent Government inspector.

The permission means development can begin on the Edgwarebury cemetery site, in Edgwarebury Lane, after it was initially rejected by councillors sitting on a Barnet Council planning committee.

The application, which was approved by council officers ahead of the initial meeting, was to increase the existing burial space by three hectares onto agricultural land, to cope with an increased demand and lack of available space.

The case was brought before the planning inspector in June and a four day hearing was held at Hendon Town Hall during which legal arguments were put forward by barristers representing the applicants, the Trustees of Belsize Square Synagogue, and Barnet Council.

Expert witnesses, councillors and conservationists were called to give evidence and planning inspector Jennifer Vyse has today released her decision on the case.

In the 17 page document, she states that the decision to approve the expansion was made on the planning merits of the case, and she had not taken into account the pending application for Clay Lane to become registered as a village green.

The report states that Ms Vyse considered the main issues in the case to be around the appropriateness of the development for the area, the effect on the character and appearance of the area and the effect of the ecology.

She notes in the report that “both the council and the appellant are of the view that the proposal does not comprise inappropriate development in the Green Belt”, but says she is not convinced by the council's argument that the planting would harm the openness of this part of Green Belt.

Ms Vyse did raise concerns that the use of memorial stones would reduce the openness of the Green Belt, and added: “I am in no doubt that the development proposed would, over time, result in a material change to the character and appearance of the appeal site.

“It would introduce closely placed memorial stone features across the site, in marked contrast to its existing open, natural and undeveloped character.

“Development on the appeal site would take place very gradually, over many years, giving time for the landscaping and planting to mature and take effect before any possible impact from use of the land as a cemetery is likely to become apparent.

“I recognise that the character and appearance of the appeal site itself would change over time and to that extent, there would be some localised harm.”

Opposition from conservationists was focused on the impact to trees, hedgerow, and wildlife in the area, although the inspector said the plans showed there would be no felling of trees and there would in fact be “significant additional planting of trees and hedgerows”.

But the report concludes there would be no material harm to the ecology of the area and no impact on wildlife living in the area, which included consideration of bats, slow worms and hobby falcons.

Ms Vyse also accepted there is an “urgent and pressing need for additional cemetery space for at least two of the communities (Belsize Square Synagogue and Liberal Judaism) that use Edgwarebury Cemetery”.

She added: “If the appeal were to fail, the Belsize Square Synagogue and Liberal Judaism communities face a fundamental problem in finding appropriate, proximate facilities in which to bury their dead.”

A series of conditions were placed on the approval, including a requirement for detailed specification to be drawn up for any maintenance work on Green Belt area, and provisions to carry out a further wildlife study on the area.