Thursday, October 29, 2015

Plans for 9,000-capacity mosque in east London rejected

Long-running plans to build a controversial mosque in east London to hold services for as many as 9,000 worshippers at a time have been rejected by the communities secretary, Greg Clark. 

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) dismissed appeals against the refusal of planning permission for the mosque in Newham, which goes by various names, including the Riverine Centre, the Abbey Mills Mosque, London Markaz and Masjid-e-Ilyas.

The Islamic missionary movement Tablighi Jamaat has sought permission to build the mosque on the 17-acre Abbey Mills site near the Olympic Park in Stratford, for about 18 years. The proposals included a huge dining hall and a library.

The DCLG said: “The decision was based on concerns that include local housing provision and conflict with the council’s local plan for the borough. It took account of the evidence from all parties and is in line with the council’s original determination and advice from the independent planning inspector on the main appeal.”

Tablighi Jamaat was also refused temporary permission to continue to use existing buildings on the site as a place of worship for the next two years, and must cease to do so within three months. There was no immediate comment from the organisation.

Newham council welcomed the decision. It said in a statement the land “which is larger than six international rugby pitches” could accommodate more than 1,100 homes and 15,000 sq m of retail, office and community space, and that its development would create a significant number of jobs.

The council said it would now continue to work to secure the development of the site. “The trust now has three months to cease the use of the site as a place of worship and clear the site they have been unlawfully using for two decades,” the statement said.

More than 250,000 people signed an online petition opposing the plans for the mosque in 2007. It claimed to represent “the Christian population of this great country England” and said the mosque would “cause terrible violence and suffering”.

Newham council rejected Tablighi Jamaat’s plans in 2012 after concerns were raised about the size of the mosque and the impact on parking and traffic in the area. It also said the mosque would have an impact on nearby historic buildings, and that the council’s priorities were the creation of new homes and jobs. 

Tablighi Jamaat appealed against the ruling, leading to a three-week public inquiry last year.

The organisation bought the site, a chemical works decommissioned in the late 1980s, in 1996. A temporary mosque known as the Riverine Centre, with capacity for 2,500 people, was built on the site soon after. 

Tablighi Jamaat has been accused of radicalising young Muslims, but says it stands for freedom, democracy and social and religious integration.

Mustafa Ahmed, who works in a cabin cafe near the site, said he did not think the mosque was needed. “Not necessary at all. It’s all industrial, not [needed] here to be honest with you,” he said. “You should come here on Friday at 2pm when lots of people come. I am Muslim, but I’m not practising and I don’t think we need it here.”

Neighbouring stallholder Mahmoud Khan, who regularly attends the existing mosque, said: “I don’t know why there were so many delays. So many times there have been applications. Don’t know why they reject. I go there to every Thursday gathering and everything there is temporary. We need a proper place. So many people come from different areas. It is unique as we are all together and gather in one prayer hall.”

Keith Lee, a florist who has had a stall in the area for over 42 years felt differently: “I’d thought there were enough mosques in the borough, and if not mosques, houses converted and prayer rooms.

“I was born in Stratford. The area is now so densely populated by different people, and there are a lot of Muslims. But because of things like this people are against immigration. It’s not about colour but when they have no respect for other people’s property. But I’m old-fashioned.”

The DCLG said it had refused to grant planning permission on economic and social grounds. One of the main reasons was the loss of housing provision on a large and important site, given Newham council’s strategy to create 40,000 new homes by 2027, it said. Another was that the appellants had failed to demonstrate the need for a mosque of its size on the site.

Clark did acknowledge that the appellants had “a large, longstanding and regular congregation” and that it would not be easy to find an alternative site in the area. It was also recognised that the decision would “likely impact on many persons of Muslim faith, particularly those associated with the Tablighi Jamaat movement”.

“However, it is considered that the proposed scheme is not in accordance with the development plan which allocated the appeal site as a strategic site for mixed use,” the DCLG said. “If approved, the site would not be used to build new homes and contribute to the regeneration of the area.”

Ken Clark, a council cabinet minister, said: “Newham council has tried to work with the trust for more than a decade now to create a plan that would benefit all residents by providing much-needed jobs, homes and community space. 

“But repeatedly the trust has broken its promises and delayed the inevitable. It is now time that this site is made thoroughly safe and developed appropriately so that it can provide vital facilities for the whole community of Newham.”

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