Controversial plans to transform a former factory in Beeston into a Muslim prayer hall and attached multi-faith community centre have been approved despite a four year battle and a massive outcry from local residents and politicians.
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 - 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.
Sean Sturman, the group’s founder and a community campaigner, 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.”
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 statement from local Labour councillors, 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.”