Global drive to stop office block next to London’s Bevis Marks - the oldest synagogue in the UK

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Opposition to plans for a huge office block next to Britain’s oldest synagogue has gone global ahead of a planning decision on Tuesday.

More than 1,700 objections to the proposal — which critics say will block light from the Grade I listed Bevis Marks synagogue — have already been lodged with the City of London Corporation. They have come from the US, Canada, Switzerland, Nepal, Israel and France as well as all over the UK.

The West End of London Property Unit Trust wants to build a 48-storey block next to the 320-year-old place of worship in the City of London.

Opponents fear the block would restrict sunlight into the synagogue. They also believe it would damage the historic and religious significance of the building.

Historian Sir Simon Schama said: “Its preservation should be as critical a matter as if, for instance, a Hawksmoor or Wren church were similarly threatened ... by commercial high-rise development.” Shalom Morris, rabbi for Bevis Marks, said: “It’s clear that the world is watching.” Planning chiefs at the Corporation are set to decide on Tuesday.

The proposed development on Bury Street would provide at least 25,460sqm of office floor space, a new pedestrian route and spaces for bike storage.

Harvard professor John Comaroff wrote: “I write in outrage at the news that the Bevis Marks Synagogue is to be put at risk by development initiatives sanctioned by the City of London Corporation.

“By giving permission for the construction of high rise structures abutting this historic building - one of critical significance not just to the British Jewish Community and World Jewry, but also to the urban history of London - the Corporation is displaying lamentable disrespect to its constituents and the world beyond.”

Historian Sir Simon Schama said: “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.”

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.

“Granting approval would not only be irresponsible, but profoundly ofensive to British Jewry and our internationally recognised heritage and religious site.”

Planning chiefs at the Corporation are set to make a decision on the plans on Tuesday.

However, they have already been recommended for approval by officials who have downplayed the concerns about light.

A report prepared for next week’s meeting states that: “The visual appreciation of the religious ceremonies and associated activities including the reading of religious text is not diminished to a significant or perceptible degree.

“The impact on daylight to the interior of the synagogue will not compromise the religious use or activities therein.”

The Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America, which represents 15 synagogues across the US, has written directly to the UK Government and City of London urging them to halt the development.

A letter from the group said: “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.”

A City of London Corporation spokesperson said no decision has been made met and its planning committee considers arguments for and against applications before deciding on them.

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