Bevis Marks leaders criticised after withdrawing objections to skyscraper development

Historic shul changes position on building plans after meetings with developers - and a 'generous contribution' towards restoring synagogue courtyard


Bevis Marks, the UK’s oldest synagogue, has been accused of “a lack of ethics” over its U-turn on opposing a 56-storey development close to its City of London site.

In April, the Sephardi shul sent an “urgent” email to congregants urging them to register objections to an application for planning permission for the new office space in Leadenhall Street, a block away from the Grade I listed building.

Leaders were concerned the proposed development would “deprive [the shul] of daylight and overshadow it”.

David Ereira, vice-president of the S&P Sephardi Community, warned: “We fear this will present a huge overbearing presence in the historic setting of the synagogue and will cut out the natural light both through the south facing windows and to the historic courtyard where we welcome the public and hold so many events. We will be submitting strong objections.”

But on July 6 — four days before the City of London Corporation planning committee considered the application — another email was circulated to members.

This time, Mr Ereira asked congregants to withdraw their objections, after the developers had “agreed to make a generous contribution to the restoration of the historic courtyard, which we are happy will offset the impacts of the scheme”.

He said that following “extensive work with a team of architects, rights of light specialists and heritage consultants, the developers have carried out further studies into the impact on the synagogue and we have had several fruitful meetings”. The amount of the “generous contribution” was not disclosed.

Members were told the developers were “understandably concerned that the many objections from our community are still on file.

“If you did register an objection, we encourage you to withdraw it so that the committee can see we are satisfied with the outcome and so that the benefits to the synagogue will materialise.”

The City of London Corporation granted planning permission for the 263.4 metre high skyscraper, colloquially named “Cheesegrater Two”, which will be the third tallest building in the Square Mile.

Marcos Chazan was among congregants who registered objections after the original letter. He was astonished by the change of heart and did not withdraw his objection.

Accusing the shul leadership of “a lack of ethics”, he claimed congregants had been used as “bargaining chips to gain leverage with the developers. The change in position is astounding. How can they go from being so opposed initially to completely altering their outlook?”

Mr Ereira declined to speak to the JC. A City of London spokesman said the corporation was “required to take the setting of a highly graded listed building such as the synagogue into consideration when assessing such applications.

“The planning and transportation committee only resolved to grant planning permission to the development after reviewing the outcome of a formal consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders.”

Opened in 1701, Bevis Marks is the only synagogue in Europe to have held services continuously for more than 300 years.



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