The City of London’s planning committee has rejected a proposal to construct a 48-story office building that would tower over Bevis Marks, the oldest synagogue in the UK, reported the Jewish Chronicle.
The commercial high rise would have left the 320-year old synagogue in near darkness, as it mostly relies on natural light and has minimal electric lighting, jeopardizing its future.
The synagogue still conducts regular services and is affiliated with London’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community.
Bevis Marks gets its light from 240 candles alongside some minimal electric lighting installed in 1928. The electric lighting cannot be increased because the synagogue is listed as a historic building.
City councillors voted 14-7 on Tuesday to reject the application for the office complex. Developers had proposed to build retail space, a tiny park and a pedestrian thoroughfare near the synagogue.
Bevis Marks could not survive “any more tall buildings [next] to our own,” the synagogue’s Rabbi Shalom Morris told the council meeting.
“If you approve this application today, a scheme that will knowingly cause harm in so many ways to Bevis Marks Synagogue, the only non-Christian house of worship in the city and the very monument to the city’s history of diversity, I don’t see how the city could continue to claim with a straight face that it stands for diversity,” he said.
Chief planning officer Gwyn RIchards spoke in support of the proposal, alleging that the loss of light would be “considered very minor and marginally noticeable” and that the high rise would serve to “deliver significant additional floor space to maintain the city’s international position.”
Bevis Marks is also speaking out against a proposal to build a 21-story tower on another adjacent street, which would also cause a dark shadow to descend over the historic building.
A local campaign to save Bevis Marks is ongoing, with historian Tom Holland writing an op-ed titled “Save Bevis Marks: Skyscraper plans are a menace to the City's heritage” in London’s City A.M. financial newspaper.
“No other synagogue in Europe has held continuous services for longer than Bevis Marks. Eighty years after the Holocaust, it serves as a symbol for Jews across the continent that light can indeed endure amid darkness. How, then, can [London] possibly allow it now to be cast into shade?” he wrote.