- World-famous Bevis Marks faces an “existential threat” as City of London Corporation planning committee makes imminent decision on two nearby office tower blocks
- Historian Sir Simon Schama and thousands of others urge the local authority to turn down the proposed developments
- US Sephardi community has called on British Ambassador in Washington, D.C. to intervene, stating the plans represent a “shocking disregard for the needs and historic rights of the Sephardic Jewish community”
- City of London commissioned report confirms cumulative effect of proposed office blocks would have a “major adverse impact” on UK’s oldest synagogue in continuous use
London: September 30, 2021 – The “existential threat” facing Britain’s oldest synagogue has provoked an “outpouring of support” against developers’ plans to build two nearby high-rise office towers in the City of London, blocking out vital light for religious services.
An unprecedented 2,718 objections – more than 1,100 in the past three weeks alone including from one of the UK’s best-known historians Sir Simon Schama – have been submitted. The proposed developments are for a 48-storey office block in Bury Street and a 21-floor building in Creechurch Lane, both next to Bevis Marks.
The Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America, which represents 15 synagogues across the US, has also intervened in the dispute, protesting to the British Ambassador in Washington, D.C. Dame Karen Pierce. The organisation says that the proposals represent “a shocking disregard for the needs and historic rights of the Sephardic Jewish community”.
In the letter, it says: “We call on the British Government and City of London municipal officials to protect this historic house of worship and halt the planned property development that will be a death knell to this sacred place of worship.”
The interventions come as an independent report commissioned by the City of London Corporation has emerged. The investigation into the Bury Street development conducted by lighting consultants BRE and signed-off on the 20 September, reveals that the cumulative effect of all the proposed developments would have a “major adverse impact”. The report confirms that Bevis Marks would face “significant reductions in sunlight”, making daily services almost impossible. A decision on the plans is expected next week (October 5).
Ahead of the important vote, Historic England has also criticised the City of London planning department about the local authority’s policies and proposals for future land use in the area.
Meanwhile, historian Sir Simon Schama has said saving the light for Bevis Marks “is a matter of deepest historical and cultural significance” for Britain’s history. He writes: “The breathtakingly beautiful synagogue has been light-filled for centuries; lit by memory, worship and the flow of our nation’s history…Its preservation should be as critical a matter as if, for instance, a Hawksmoor or Wren church were similarly threatened and darkened by commercial high-rise development. It must be saved.”
The historic place of worship – known as the “cathedral synagogue” of UK Jewry – is a Grade 1 Listed heritage building of international significance which recently celebrated 320 years of regular services. Initially for those who lived in the City of London, it is now a centre of worship for people from all over the world.
Shalom Morris, Rabbi for Bevis Marks, said: “We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support shown both in the UK and abroad for the very survival of our great synagogue. It’s clear that the world is watching as the City of London Corporation makes one of its most historically significant decisions.
“In view of the City of London’s recent independent light study reiterating the harm of proposed and already approved towers next to Bevis Marks Synagogue, granting approval would not only be irresponsible, but profoundly offensive to British Jewry and our internationally recognised heritage and religious site.
“Not only will light be blocked, on which the building depends for ambiance, spirituality, and atmosphere, but the very foundations will be at risk. Does the public benefit of yet another office tower outweigh the harm to British Jewry’s Cathedral synagogue? Surely not.
“We urge City planners and committee members to re-think these proposals which pose an existential threat. Bevis Marks represents the unique historic connection between the Jewish community and Britain, and plays such a vital role in London’s heritage”.
Among the many hundreds of objections is one from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Its president Marie van der Zyl wrote: “The notion that we would wish to risk the synagogue’s foundations, shroud it in darkness or restrict disabled access is heart-breaking. It would be a terrible wound to a living monument of British support for Jewish life and the Jewish contribution to British life.
“Bevis Marks Synagogue is of such enormous significance that we urge the City of London to consider explicit long term protection for the building and its surrounds so that they no longer have to fight each development individually”.
Full Simon Schama objection: “Saving the light for Bevis Marks is a matter of the deepest historical and cultural significance not just for England’s Jewish community but for Britain’s deep history.
“The breathtakingly beautiful synagogue has been light- filled for centuries; lit by memory, worship and the flow of our nation’s history. It featured in my A History of Britain BBC series but this would have been impossible had it been stripped of light by looming towers of the kind now proposed.
“Its preservation should be as critical a matter as if, for instance, a Hawksmoor or Wren church were similarly threatened and darkened by commercial high-rise development. It must be saved.”