Barnet Council has finally confirmed that a meeting to decide on a planning application attempting turn the former Hippodrome building in Golders Green into a community and worship centre for the Shia Iraqi community will take place next month.
Confirmation of the strategic planning committee meeting, on 19 July, came just three weeks after lawyers acting for the Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami (the Markaz) Isalmic Centre warned the Council they could face legal action over alleged “unlawful religious discrimination.”
Meanwhile Jewish News can also reveal that a group set up to challenge the application has parted company with planning consultant Gavin Boby and his firm, GB Planning Permissions Limited.
Sources close to The Golders Green Residents Environment Group, (GGREG), said that after careful consideration on both sides it was concluded that Markaz’ labelling of Mr Boby’s as ‘the mosque-buster’ was serving as an unhelpful distraction from the key issues relating to traffic, parking, disturbance and harm to local amenity which are being considered in relation to the above application.”
Last month Jewish News reported on how a letter, sent to Barnet Council’s planning department, set out claims that its conduct had contravened the 2010 Equality Act.
Local councillors were sent a YouTube film with support for the Markaz expressed by rabbis, priests, students and community groups.
Among those to appear in the You Tube film sent to councillors was Rabbi Josh Levy of Alyth Synagogue who said:”Like many communities, including mine, they’re a community who fled danger andbuilt a new life of safety in London.
Responding to the Council’s decision to confirm next month’s meeting Ali Madami, said:“This [the Letter Before Action] was really a last resort.
“After the delays we have experienced in our dealings with the council, it felt as if we were being treated less favourably than the church that had used the Hippodrome for 10 years before it was bought by the Markaz.
“It is fantastic news that the council has now set a date for the decision. It will be a great way of showing that Barnet is proud to be a welcoming home to all faiths and communities.
“Councillors can be confident that they have the support of the Golders Green community and Barnet’s synagogues, churches, temples and other community groups.”
The vast majority of 778 public comments on the proposed centre from those who live locally in NW11 opposed its approval – some 88 percent.
At next month’s meeting those in attendance will listen to any representations before reached a final decision on the application.
Meanwhile, a local resident and representative of GGREG said: “Markaz and their supporters have consistently tried to weaponize Mr Boby’s presence as an adviser to local residents to distract from the very real shortcomings in their application. They have instead unfairly sought to characterise genuine local concerns as in some way racist and non-inclusive which could not be further from the truth. We continue to believe that Barnet’s Planning Committee will rise above these antics and will consider this application solely on the basis of its flawed technical merits.”
The council has been accused of making a number of unreasonable demands of the centre – such as demanding it funds expensive parking schemes – that it did not make of previous occupants.
“The council’s actions appear to be a deliberate attempt to delay and ultimately “make the problem go away” by discouraging the application, its lawyers claim. “There is no good reason why such a simple procedure should have taken so long to resolve.
The Markaz, a community comprised largely of Iraqi Shia refugees who fled the Saddam Hussein regime and which has been based in the London Borough of Barnet since the 1990s, bought the Hippodrome and moved into it in 2017.
The building, historically home to the BBC Concert Orchestra had been in use as a church since 2007.
If successful the new owners of the building will use it as both a community centre and a place of worship. Numbers are expected to rise above 500 people on Fridays and above 1,400 for key religious events.
The building is listed meaning it cannot be altered and a minaret cannot be placed on the roof.
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