The UK’s oldest synagogue has been “saved for now” as the City of London Corporation rejected a 48-storey tower block that would have put the historic site at risk of closure.
The planning and transport committee for the Square Mile’s local authority today rejected the application by 14 votes to 7 in the wake of public pressure to save the synagogue.
There will soon be another vote by the committee on an application for another tower block that is adjacent to the heritage-listed synagogue.
Rabbi Shalom Morris, the rabbi at Bevis Marks, claimed the two tower blocks will leave the synagogue in near complete darkness and likely make it unusable.
Commenting on the Corporation’s decision today, Morris said the synagogue had been “saved for now”.
“We are clearly delighted that the planning committee has seen sense and acknowledged the very real concerns of not just the Jewish community but thousands of supporters of British heritage,” he said.
“Their own commissioned report found that multiple developments would cause harm to our sacred house of worship that has served generations of Jews since 1701.
“The cumulative impact of continuing to allow developers to build right up against our synagogue will block out any daylight. We already find it difficult at times to read prayers and carry out a normal service due to poor light conditions. The threat is not over yet though as we continue to fight against another nearby planned skyrise development.”
City A.M. revealed last week that some councillors were claiming that the leadership of the Corporation were pressuring the planning committee to approve the towers.
One said “heritage always becomes a second thought” and that “there is a serious desire by those in charge to be seen as pro-development to show that the City is back post-Covid”.
Almost 3,000 people submitted complaints about the high rise rejected today, with famous historians such as Simon Schama and Tom Holland calling for the synagogue to be saved.
Holland wrote in City A.M. that “Bevis Marks is Britain’s single most historically significant monument to the role played by Jews in national life” and that “it deserves the protection from developers that is rightly granted to St Paul’s”.
Sir Michael Bear, former Lord Mayor of the City of London Corporation, said planning committee’s rejection of the tower was “a sensible and responsible decision”.
“The City has listened and taken on board the genuine concerns of an important community in safeguarding Bevis Marks for future generations,” he said.
“There is still the worry over Creechurch which would have an even worse effect on light levels. The only reasonable next step is to turn that application down too.”
Sarah Sackman, a barrister who made a presentation to the planning committee on behalf of the synagogue, said: “The rejected scheme for an overbearing 48 storey office block would have harmed the experience of this special place, diminished its setting and sunlight.
“We hope that today’s correct result will lay down a marker for the future to developers and City planners to respect this wonderful place in our national heritage.”