Campaigners’ fury at Leeds prayer centre go-ahead

Sean Sturman created Save Our Beeston group in opposition to the plans. PIC: Tony Johnson
Sean Sturman created Save Our Beeston group in opposition to the plans. PIC: Tony Johnson
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Controversial plans to transform a former factory in Leeds into a Muslim prayer hall and multi-faith community centre have finally been approved after a four year battle and a massive outcry from the local community.

Beeston-based charity Aspiring Communities’ plans for the Ice Pak site, on Barkly Road in Beeston were first submitted in December 2013 and went on to attract nearly 2,800 objections - including from MP Hilary Benn and local councillors.

Concerns were raised over the scale of the proposal - described as a mixed-use development comprising sports hall, teaching, prayer and community facilities rather than a mosque - with fears over an increase in traffic, demand for on-street parking and the impact of noise on neighbours.

After Leeds City Council delayed its final decision on the plans, the scheme brought before a four-day public inquiry in March this year - and now the inspector’s final decision to approve the plans has been announced.

The news has been met with anger by some locals, many of who have been having their say on the Save Our Beeston Facebook page, which was set up to fight the development and now has 7,500 members.

The group’s administrators also had to intervene and remove hundreds of abusive messages which were posted amid the backlash to the decision.

Sean Sturman, the group’s founder, said: “We’re very disappointed. We’ve been fighting this for four years. The main worry is 3,000 people voted against it - local people, the three councillors voted against it, Hilary Benn our MP voted against it and now it takes one man who doesn’t live here, to decide the fate of the people.”

He said conditions imposed by the inspector - including no more than 308 people at any one time, limiting hours of use to 8am to 10pm, no amplified calls to prayer or music - did not alleviate concerns “whatsoever”.

He added: “It’s caused a lot of division to be honest. When we found out yesterday there was a massive amount of ill-feeling. It will probably split the community to be honest.

“We’re going to see three years of huge construction - some of the houses are one yard away. It’s the safety of the kids - there are three infant schools in the proximity.

“We are not happy. All the residents are not happy.”

A statement from the three Labour ward councillors for Beeston and Holbeck, Angela Gabriel, Adam Ogilvie and David Congreve said: “We are extremely disappointed that the Government Inspector has over-ruled local concerns about highways and noise to instead allow the application to proceed.

“We have worked with Save our Beeston for the last few years including our weekly online advice surgery and we will continue to do all we can to provide our help and support.

“We have asked council planning officers to provide a response to this outcome and advise how they are going to ensure the proposed conditions are put in place and are properly adhered to.”

Newly re-elected Leeds central MP Hilary Benn added: “Beeston residents have been shocked and disappointed by this decision, and so am I. Leeds City Council, my three ward colleagues Angela Gabriel, Adam Ogilvie and David Congreve and I all opposed the granting of planning permission on traffic grounds and I do not understand why the Inspector has reached the opposite conclusion. Unfortunately, this is the final stage in the process - there is no right of appeal – and the task now will be for the Council to make sure that all planning conditions are fully applied.”

A spokesperson for applicants Aspiring Communities said: We are obviously happy to have been granted planning permission, but wish to go forward not alone, but in partnership with a wide range of local people and organisations. That was always our intention, and we’re sorry we failed to communicate that clearly. We’re 100% open to ideas.

“We acknowledge the conflict that has previously arisen these past years, and the legitimate concerns that have been raised. We regret our part in that, and have learnt a lot.

We are not going to get embrawled with individuals on social media. There is a lot of anger being vented by local individuals who have opposed the project from day one but more disheartening are the comments of a racial nature being made by some.

The Aspiring Communities vision and in particular this community project was and is all about community cohesion, tolerance and respect, we will continue to work in partnership with the community to break down any barriers and unfortunate stereotypes.

We look forward to a highly inclusive, open access facility, but this is a 2 way process, where we require the consultation and more importantly feedback/engagement from all of the community.

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