The fight over a new Islamic centre at the old Hippodrome in Golders Green moved beyond Barnet this week after Jewish residents sent letters both for and against plans to the national Planning Inspectorate in Bristol.
An appeal by Markaz El Tathgheef El Eslami against Barnet Council’s enforcement notice has led to leaflets, letters and accusations of racism and divisiveness, opening old wounds first exposed in 2017, when plans for a “mosque” were first aired.
The building is listed so the new owners cannot create a new mosque as they cannot affix a minaret. Rather, they plan an Islamic community centre which will include some prayers.
They first applied for planning application from Barnet Council more than two years ago, but the application was stymied after the council challenged the new owners’ travel plans, including parking, as well as the proposed hours of operation.
This summer the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol began an Enforcement Notice Appeal, inviting written submissions and questionnaires. The appellant’s final comments due in by mid-December, with a hearing due to take place early next year, during which a planning inspector will hear evidence and make a final decision.
But things have again turned nasty, with leaflets appearing in and around Golders Green warning of a “mega mosque… bigger than [the mosque at] Finsbury Park,” leading interfaith groups to slam those blamed for “racism” during the initial backlash in 2017.
Mitzvah Day’s trustees, including its founder and former senior vice president of the Board of Deputies Laura Marks, this week said: “We have been very disappointed to read about the campaign which is being waged against [the Islamic centre’s] planning appeal and in particular its tone, which is bordering on Islamophobic.”
Writing in Jewish News, they added: “It saddens us that the building would remain empty when it could be used as a place of good deeds and prayer – like so many other buildings that have changed use in the Golders Green area.”
Likewise, a letter from Esmond Rosen, co-chair of Barnet Multi Faith Forum, said some resident had “reacted negatively to anonymous leaflets that have been distributed locally in objection to the proposed planning permission”.
He added: “These leaflets have been used to inflame and divide the community by its use of misleading language and provocative rhetoric, claiming the Markaz is building a ‘Mega Mosque’ which would harm the quality of life in the area.
“The BMFF robustly refutes this allegation. To the contrary, [we] sincerely believe that the diversity of our community is greatly improved by the presence of the Centre and its warm and welcoming community, and we strongly support its continued establishment in the area.”