Hundreds object to 43-storey office block plans near UK’s oldest synagogue

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Synagogue
Image credit Louis Berk

Hundreds of objections have been filed against ‘wholly inappropriate’ plans for a 43-storey office block next to the UK’s oldest synagogue. Submissions sent in opposing the new proposals, for Bury Street in the City of London, slam the scheme as an ‘obscenity’ and for its anticipated impact on the Grade-I listed Bevis Marks Synagogue.

A previous application for a 48-storey office block was rejected by the City of London Corporation in October 2021. Backed by the developer Welput, a fund managed by real estate firm BentallGreenOak, the scheme was refused on two grounds; its ‘overshadowing and overbearing’ impact on the synagogue, and the detrimental effect it would have on the Tower of London World Heritage Site.

It’s around half a mile from the Tower of London, but the potential impact on Bevis Marks is far worse, confirmed by an independent review commissioned by the City, which found the tower would result in ‘significant reductions in sunlight’.

The new submission by Welput is again intended to be office-led, and have spaces for education, retail and other uses, alongside public realm improvements. The building has been reduced to 43 storeys and will be slimmer at the top, to allow for more sunlight onto the synagogue.

It has, however, drawn 298 objections in just over a month, as well as 21 in support. The consequences for the heritage of the Grade-I listed site were high among the concerns raised by those opposing the scheme.

“What message would permitting this obscenity send about the City of London and its values to the hundreds of thousands of visitors, including school children and those from across the UK and overseas, who will come to visit over the new few years?,” one person wrote.

“This kind of proposal would never be considered within the vicinity of St Paul’s Cathedral, and should certainly not be permitted just metres from British Jewry’s Cathedral synagogue, particularly along its sensitive southern exposure.”

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Another wrote they are ‘astonished and appalled’ to see the new application. “A very similar application was refused some two years ago, and since then the area has been made a Conservation Area.”

The submission of the proposed scheme following the recent designation of the locality as a Conservation Area was also raised by a number of other objectors. One person wrote: “I consider that this planning application should never have reared its head again in only a slightly revised format to that which has already been rejected.

“It is an absolute disgrace that the City of London Planning Committee that passed the Conservation Plan which was approved so recently, should be undermined. This proposed development will have serious detrimental effects on the Bevis Marks Synagogue, which is a Grade I listed building and should have the same protection as St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London. Would you do this to those buildings?”

Rabbi Shalom Morris of Bevis Marks previously described the application as a ‘grotesque attempt by developers to mislead the British public – they imply that they have satisfied us (which is completely untrue), and they claim a long list of planning benefits (most of which are spurious)’.

He added: “It is an affront to both the Jewish community and to UK heritage and we are not fooled. Incredibly, the City of London is facilitating this hostile proposal by refusing to include policies in their new local plan draft that would protect the synagogue from such vandalism.”

A City of London Corporation spokesperson said at the time its draft local plan for the Square Mile, the City Plan 2040, ‘recognises the importance of local heritage assets, such as the Bevis Marks Synagogue and contains measures that seek to give them effective protection. The plan also states that developments should form a positive relationship with the Synagogue, without dominating or detracting from its architectural and historic value’.

In its draft plan, currently going through public consultation, the City identifies a projected need for 1.2 million square metres of additional floorspace by the end of the next decade. Rabbi Morris had previously said he hoped the plan would protect the synagogue from overshadowing by tall buildings. Welput was approached for comment, but had not responded at the time of publication.

A spokesperson for Welput said: “Our Bury Street project seeks to maximise heritage, environmental and public benefits by considering the future use of the entire site. We have a sincere respect for the historic and cultural importance of the area around this site, including Bevis Marks Synagogue, and have developed our proposal with such heritage sites in mind. Most notably, we have meaningfully reduced the height of Bury House and articulated the building at the upper floors with additional steps.”

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