New threat to Bevis Marks

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New threat to Bevis Marks

Historic synagogue faces possible changes in protected area status

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Bevis Marks, built in 1701, is the oldest synagogue in Great Britain
Bevis Marks, built in 1701, is the oldest synagogue in Great Britain

Supporters of Britain’s “cathedral” synagogue, Bevis Marks, built in 1701, have expressed serious concern at proposals being considered by the City of London planning and transportation committee, which could threaten the synagogue for the second time in thee years.

Last week — January 31 — the committee agreed to send a new Local Plan for consultation. Despite having agreed only recently that Bevis Marks was in a protected, heritage position in the City of London, clauses in the new Local Plan appear directly to contradict such protection. That would leave open the possibility of a renewed application from the developers, Welput, which wants to build a skyscraper block in Bury Street, only yards away from Bevis Marks.

Rabbi Shalom Morris, the synagogue’s minister, who led a successful campaign against a broadly similar plan in 2021, says the new Local Plan “feels like a miscarriage of justice”.


He said: “We are shocked that the City of London is attempting to erode the synagogue’s protections and acting in such an underhanded manner.


“Clearly they aren’t happy about the previous planning refusal or the new conservation area boundary and so they are attempting to change the planning rules to bring about their desired result.This is an abuse of power and a breach of our community’s trust.”


A group of Bevis Marks supporters, including writer and historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, whose parents were married at Bevis Marks, have bitterly opposed the new plans. If they are carried out as envisaged, the skyscraper will overshadow the synagogue, cutting out any natural light currently enjoyed in the sanctuary.


Rabbi Morris told Jewish News that the synagogue and its supporters would be putting in “very strong representations” to the planning committee, pointing out the flaws in the Local Plan.


But a City of London spokesman denied a threat to Bevis Marks, insisting that the new plan “recognises the importance of Bevis Marks Synagogue.


“The Plan contains measures that seek to give appropriate protection to the synagogue, including the establishment of a new ‘immediate setting’ area, where development proposals should preserve and, where possible, enhance the elements of the setting that contribute to its significance.

“The Plan also states that developments should form a positive relationship with the synagogue without dominating or detracting from its architectural and historic value.”


The developers’ proposals, say the City of London, will be “subject to public engagement in late spring, followed by an examination in public, conducted by an independent planning inspector later this year.”

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