The charity behind controversial plans for a Muslim prayer hall and multi-faith community centre in a south Leeds suburb has apologised to locals for its part in a long running “conflict” over the proposals - and has vowed to work “in partnership” with local objectors to allay their concerns.
As previously reported, charity Aspiring Communities’ plans for the Ice Pak site, on Barkly Road in Beeston, have been approved by a Government inspector despite thousands of objections, including concern from the local MP Hilary Benn.
The proposals were first submitted in December 2013 and went on to attract nearly 2,800 objections.
Concerns were raised over the scale of the proposal – described by the applicant as a mixed-use development with sports hall, teaching, prayer and community facilities rather than a mosque – as well as increased traffic and lack of parking.
But after Leeds City Council delayed its final decision on the plans, the scheme was brought before a public inquiry – and now the inspector’s final decision to approve the plans has been announced.
The news led to anger from some locals - and a social media backlash which forced the moderators of a Facebook page dedicated to the campaign to remove hundreds of abusive messages.
Reacting to the decision and its aftermath, a spokesperson for 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.”
“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 two way process, where we require the consultation and more importantly feedback/engagement from all of the community.”
MP Hilary Benn said: ““Beeston residents have been shocked and disappointed by this decision, and so am I.
“Leeds City Council, my three ward colleagues 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 the three Labour ward councillors, Angela Gabriel, Adam Ogilvie and David Congreve said they were “extremely disappointed” and have asked the council’s planning department to respond to the outcome and advise how they will ensure the conditions are adhered to.
Sean Sturman, a community campaigner and founder of the Facebook group which was set up to fight the plans on planning grounds, said: “We’re very disappointed. We’ve been fighting this for four years. The main worry is 3,000 people voted against it.”
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, and no amplified calls to prayer or music - did not alleviate concerns.
He added: “It’s caused a lot of division 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.”