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Britain’s oldest synagogue in City of London could be plunged into darkness amid fresh skyscraper plans

Bevis Marks synagogue has been fighting plans for skyscrapers around its site for years (Bevis Marks)
Bevis Marks synagogue has been fighting plans for skyscrapers around its site for years (Bevis Marks)

Britain’s oldest synagogue could be plunged into darkness and unable to carry out religious practices as it faces a fresh battle to stop a skyscraper from towering over it, a rabbi has warned.

Bevis Marks Synagogue is at risk of being overshadowed by a new 43-storey tower at 31 Bury Street, it has claimed.

The Grade I listed synagogue has spent years fighting against plans for tower blocks nearby and previously argued that services would become “almost impossible” as they would block out nearly all sunlight.

Rabbi Shalom Morris told the Standard that a skyscraper at the Bury Street site would become “the backdrop to the synagogue”.

The synagogue has previously said it would be forced to shut if a skyscraper was built next door
The synagogue has previously said it would be forced to shut if a skyscraper was built next door

He said: “It would block light into the synagogue where the light is already curtailed from some tall buildings that have already been built.

“It feels like a nail in the coffin scenario, where it is going to push things over the edge. It will dominate the synagogue’s setting."

The rabbi added that if a tall building was built “just 20 yards south of the synagogue” it would dominate the religious site.

“It will also infringe on certain religious practices for the community as well that require views of the sky,” he added.

“Because so much of the sky view in general around the courtyard has already been obstructed… this is the last remaining sky view that remains - so it is particularly crucial that is preserved.”

The synagogue has fought off plans for skyscrapers being built next door to it in the past
The synagogue has fought off plans for skyscrapers being built next door to it in the past

Plans to build a 47-storey skyscraper at 31 Bury Street were previously rejected by the City of London in 2021 because of the harm it would cause to the synagogue and views from the Tower of London.

At the time more than 1,700 objections were sent to the City of London from across the world.

Plans for another skyscraper nearby were also withdrawn after the Bury Street application was turned down.

In December the synagogue secured protection against local planning developments after the City of London voted to set up a conservation area around the site.

But new proposals could allow skyscrapers to be built inside conservation areas under the City's new Local Plan.

The plan was approved by its planning committee on Wednesday, creating a new threat to the synagogue.

Campaigners have accused the City of London of “rewriting its own guidelines to permit harm to” and Rabbi Morris has said the new plan “feels like a miscarriage of justice”.

He added: “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 City of London spokesperson said: “The City of London Corporation’s Planning and Transportation Committee voted overwhelmingly in favour of the City Plan 2040.

“The proposed plan recognises the importance of local heritage assets, such as the Bevis Marks Synagogue and contains measures that seek to give them appropriate 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.

“City Plan 2040 will be subject to public engagement in late Spring followed by an examination in public, conducted by an independent Planning Inspector later this year."

A spokesperson for Welput, who is behind the Bury Street project, said: "We can confirm that Welputhas submitted a planning application to the City of London and are awaiting validation.

"Our Bury Street project seeks to maximise heritage, environmental and public benefits by considering the future use of the entire site. We have a sincere respect for the historic and cultural importance of the area around this site, including Bevis Marks Synagogue, and have developed our proposal with such heritage sites in mind.

"Most notably, we have meaningfully reduced the height of Bury House and articulated the building at the upper floors with additional steps."

The developers added that they have consulted with charities, schools and stakeholders including the synagogue.