New threat to Bevis Marks Synagogue unveiled by City of London

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New threat to Bevis Marks Synagogue unveiled by City of London

Developers submit new application for 45-storey tower block, two years after bid for 47-storey tower rejected

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

A ceremony at the Spanish and Portuguese Jews Congregation, at Bevis Marks Synagogue, London in 2015
(C) Blake Ezra Photography 2015.
A ceremony at the Spanish and Portuguese Jews Congregation, at Bevis Marks Synagogue, London in 2015 (C) Blake Ezra Photography 2015.

A new threat to the oldest synagogue in Britain has emerged with a planning application for a 45-storey tower.

Just two years after the City of London refused an application for a 47-storey tower block which would have overshadowed Bevis Marks Synagogue, the same developers have submitted a proposal for a tower only marginally smaller.

Rabbi Shalom Morris, the rabbi of Bevis Marks, called the new application “vandalism” and said that the synagogue, and its supporters, remained “completely opposed to the new scheme”. Bevis Marks is a Grade-1 listed building, and the nearby World Heritage site, the Tower of London, could also be affected.

In a statement, a  synagogue spokesman said that as previously, “if built the tower will cause great damage to the synagogue’s protected setting, internal light levels, and the community’s ability to worship by blotting out its southern exposure sky-view.

“The City of London once again holds the synagogue’s future in its hands and should clearly refuse this audacious application.  Bevis Marks Synagogue calls on the public to formally object to the proposal.”

The new application was made public on Thursday afternoon, and interested parties have until 15 May to make representations to the City of London’s case officer, Anna Tastsoglou.

A City of London Corporation, spokesperson, said: “We formally approved the local plan for the Square Mile, known as ‘City Plan 2040’ which will soon be subject to public engagement and followed by a public examination, conducted by an independent planning inspector. The proposed plan recognises the importance of local heritage assets, such as the Bevis Marks Synagogue and contains measures that seek to give them effective protection. The plan also states that developments should form a positive relationship with the synagogue, without dominating or detracting from its architectural and historic value.”

Rabbi Morris said: “This regurgitated application is a grotesque attempt by developers to mislead the British public — they imply that they have satisfied us (which is completely untrue), and they claim a long list of planning benefits (most of which are spurious). It is an affront to both the Jewish community and to UK heritage and we are not fooled. Incredibly, the City of London is facilitating this hostile proposal by refusing to include policies in their new local plan draft that would protect the synagogue from such vandalism.”

Tilla Crowne, a Bevis Marks trustee, said: “The harmful impact of this proposal on Bevis Marks Synagogue is clear to anyone who doesn’t have a vested interest in it. The synagogue will now need to sink massive amounts of volunteers’ time and money, that would otherwise have gone to support our local community, just to produce new professional reports combatting what is essentially the same proposal that it already stopped two years ago. This is the epitome of injustice and highlights the scant regard the City Corporation appears to pay to the heritage and culture of our community.”

Another synagogue supporter is Sir Michael Bear. He said: “As a former Lord Mayor, former longstanding member of the Planning Committee, and a developer, I can confirm that there are red lines — and this proposal clearly crosses them, as it did two years ago.

“The responsibility of the City is to protect and support its communities, not diminish them. This application, encouraged by the City, is for a ludicrously tall building in the wrong location with a devastating impact.

“It is high time the City followed up on its declared intention to protect Bevis Marks Synagogue — and its remarkable record of continuous worship for over 300 years — by celebrating it and its setting, rather than being complicit in destroying it.”

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