Conservation status given to area including UK’s oldest synagogue

Conservation status given to area including UK’s oldest synagogue
Credit Edward Waller, The Georgian Group and City of London Corporation

The Rabbi of the UK’s oldest synagogue has praised the City of London Corporation for granting the local Creechurch area conservation status – though has called on the authority to follow through on its commitment to protect the site from tall buildings.

Representatives from the Grade-I listed Bevis Marks Synagogue, which is also the longest continually operating in Europe, had proposed the City designate the Aldgate locality a conservation area in Spring this year. The plans, which were subsequently drawn up by officers at the Corporation, received wide support from local residents, businesses and other stakeholders, the majority of whom specifically backed the recommended boundary submitted by the synagogue.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) spoke to several workers based in the area, all of whom supported the proposed conservation status. Kevin Ward, 68, told the LDRS: “I think it’s a good area, particularly by the church, in fact by any of the churches near here,” before adding: “I think the place benefits from them enormously.”

As well as Bevis Marks Synagogue, Creechurch is home to heritage assets such as the St Katherine Cree and St Botolph Aldgate churches, both Grade-I listed, and Aldgate School.

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The City’s Planning and Transport Committee unanimously approved the plans in December, and on Thursday afternoon (January 11), the final go-ahead was given by the local authority’s Court of Common Council.

Chair of the Planning and Transport Committee, Deputy Shravan Joshi, queried during the meeting on whether the status would preserve the views in and out of the synagogue’s courtyard. Cllr Timothy McNally drew comparisons to the protected views of St Paul’s Cathedral, while Alderman Greg Jones asked whether the document before the Court presumes the preservation of the site.

Deputy Joshi responded saying that the synagogue, its courtyard and its views form a ‘significant part’ of the conservation area, though did note some tall buildings can already been seen nearby. He added Creechurch is one of the few conservation areas in which such buildings already exist, before confirming more details will be included in the Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Strategy due to be prepared this Spring. When asked to vote, members unanimously backed the proposal to designate Creechurch a conservation area.

Following the approval, Rabbi Morris said: “We are very pleased the City has now formally adopted the new conservation area, and with the boundary we supported, including the contentious site of 31 Bury St. This is a very special and historic part of the City, not least for the Jewish community, and it is under constant threat from insensitive development proposals.”

He said the next key piece of legislation will be the City’s new local plan, which is to be published this month before it goes to consultation over the Spring/Summer period.

He added: “We hope the City will follow through with their commitment to protect Bevis Marks Synagogue with policies that ensure the synagogue is not overshadowed by any more tall buildings, thereby preserving the setting and light of the City’s only non-Christian House of Worship, British Jewry’s cathedral synagogue.”

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