A historic synagogue in the City of London is set for a new battle with the Corporation, as plans to build a skyscraper next to it have re-emerged.
Bevis Marks synagogue has appealed for a change of course from the Square Mile’s authority, claiming a plan to build a new 48-storey tower, 31 Bury, so close by, would be existential to the hundreds-of-years old building.
This comes after a campaign was launched in 2021 to ‘save Bevis Marks’, with campaigners saying the initial proposals would eclipse natural light from the building, which opened in 1701.
The campaign was successful, but fresh proposals were recently put forward through the Corporation’s new plans, which the local Jewish community claims have “moved the goalposts” from the 2021 verdict.
Ahead of the Corporation’s planning committee meeting on Wednesday, campaigners say the plans would “allow tall buildings in the conservation areas, which will overshadow the grade 1 listed synagogue” once again.
The synagogue stands on the line of what was once the Roman wall, between Bishopgate and Aldgate. It was founded by Jews, who in 1699 signed a contract with a local Quaker to construct it, and in 1701 opened it to worshippers.
While Bevis Marks was not London’s first synagogue, it was the first to have been built in the city for over four centuries and is the longest continuously operational synagogue in the UK.
Campaigners say the new proposals would seek to “unilaterally limit the definition of the synagogue’s protected setting by tightly drawing its boundary and dismissing its clear sky-view backdrop.
“In doing so, it is rejecting its own planning committee’s decision in 2021 to refuse planning permission for a tower at 31 Bury St on account of the harm it would have caused to the synagogue’s setting.”
On Tuesday, a letter was published in the Telegraph accusing the City of having “moved the goalposts”, and that its new plan “pays lip service to protecting Bevis Marks”, but that protections had “quietly been removed. “
The letter is signed by high profile British Jews including Former Lord Mayor of London Sir Michael Bear, Sir Simon Schama, Simon Sebag Montefiore, and Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
It is also backed by local MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, Nickie Aiken and historian Tom Holland, who previously called the plans a “menace.”
Shalom Morris, Rabbi of Bevis Marks Synagogue 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.”
Sir Michael Bear, former Lord Mayor called the synagogue “a national treasure and the City should be working out how to protect it better, not as is the case here to diminish it.
A City of London Corporation, spokesperson hit back at the criticism however, saying “proposed City 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.”