Historic synagogue wins first round of City planning battle

The UK’s oldest synagogue, a 320-year-old building in the City of London, has won the first stage of its battle to stave off an existential threat from plans to build two skyscrapers nearby.

Planning officials have refused permission for a 48-storey office block next to the Grade I-listed Bevis Marks synagogue, saying it would have a “major adverse impact” on the historic place of worship. A second application, to build a 21-storey tower that synagogue officials say would block natural light, is yet to be considered.

More than 2,800 objections to the towers have been submitted to the City of London Corporation. Heritage organisations, academics and multi-faith groups have raised concerns about the buildings’ impact on the only non-Christian house of worship in the City.

The historian Sir Simon Schama wrote: “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 synagogue, built in 1701, is now the only one in Europe, and possibly the world, that has held continuous worship throughout its existence.

Shalom Morris, the rabbi, said he was delighted that the corporation’s planning committee had “acknowledged the very real concerns of not just the Jewish community but thousands of supporters of British heritage.

“The cumulative impact of continuing to allow developers to build right up against our synagogue will block out any daylight. We already find it difficult at times to read prayers and carry out a normal service due to poor light conditions. The threat is not over yet though, as we continue to fight against another nearby planned sky-rise development.”

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