The government will have the final say on whether a historic mosque can be built overlooking one of Preston’s busiest road junctions – with a Preston councilor also coming forward to explain why he is against the proposal as it stands is.
A public inquiry is due to take place into Preston City Council’s decision to license the three-storey place of worship on land along Broughton Roundabout, where the M6 and M55 motorways meet the A6. The authority’s planning committee voted by majority in February to approve the striking building, the design of which was the winning entry in a prestigious international competition organized by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
The mosque itself is to have a maximum height of 12 meters, while an accompanying minaret will rise 30 meters into the air, sitting on elevated ground previously used as a compound during the construction of the Broughton Bypass.
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However, the development has divided public opinion – with more than 625 letters filed in favor of the project, but also more than 425 objections. Concerns centered on its potential impact on traffic – as well as the scale and appearance of the building, which will accommodate 248 prayer rugs and associated worshippers.
Preston planning officers have recommended committee councilors give the green light to the request, telling them at the meeting where the matter was discussed that the need for a mosque in the area ‘tipped the scales’ in favor of its approval – despite the fact that it opposed two local planning policies.
The subsequent decision to do just that caused consternation among councilors representing the Preston Rural East ward where the mosque would be built. One of them, Cllr Graham Jolliffe, has written to the government asking that the matter be ‘recalled’ for further consideration.
That request, which it appears was also made by another local politician, has now been granted – meaning a public inquiry will be held to reassess the request. A Planning Inspector will then make a recommendation to the Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, as to whether to approve or rescind the original permit.
In a letter to Preston City Council from the Department of Leveling, Housing and Communities – which has been seen by LancsLive – the authority was told that the Secretary of State is particularly interested in being informed of “the measure in which the proposed development is in accordance with the development plan for the area”.
The city council says it is “disappointed” by the decision to call for applications.
However, Cllr Jolliffe told LancsLive it was about restoring trust in the planning process – which he said had been badly damaged among those who opposed the mosque in the proposed location.
“Even Preston City Council recognized that this went against national, Lancashire and Preston policy guidelines – so I am very pleased that the central government has recognized the strength of our argument and wants to take a look at it. ‘eye. I’m not against the mosque being in the right place, where there are good transport links and it’s not going to disrupt a main thoroughfare in and out of town – but I think it’s not really not the right building in the wrong place and very clearly a flagrant violation of a variety of different planning regulations.
“This is an acknowledgment from central government that the concerns of a large majority of local people in Broughton – and this area – have been recognized and are being duly addressed. So many people have told me after the decision they just couldn’t understand it – so confidence in our planning process has been shaken. Maybe that can help restore that,” Cllr Jolliffe added.
The committee meeting in February heard from a member of the area’s Muslim community who said Muslim families coming from other parts of Preston ‘should not be deprived of a local place of worship for their religious well-being and spiritual”.
Fatima Ismail also told the committee members: “Some parents moved there because of the newly built houses and for about three years they…expressed their concern about the lack of a place of worship where they can feel safe. community and in peace. We second generation Muslim women love to visit the mosque for our prayers, spirituality, mental health and well-being.
“Having this mosque in the parish of Broughton will not only provide a much needed place of worship at a time when we all need faith, peace and guidance and something to give us hope, but also because the design of this mosque is actually unique and encompasses the history of this city,” said Ms. Ismail.
Planning officials said this nod to Preston’s past – in the form of the building’s minaret resembling a Victorian mill chimney – was something that weighed in its favour. However, one of the main reasons they overturned a previous recommendation to deny the application when it was first presented to the committee last July was that a plan had now been drawn up to ensure sufficient parking capacity for services of prayer the most frequented. .
It was proposed to set up a reservation system for the 150-space car park and to reserve 77 spaces for carpoolers. Based on a minimum of two occupants per car, then during peak mosque attendance, only 31 worshipers would have to access the site by means other than car.
Lancashire County Council highways officials also said the proposed mosque development was unlikely to have a significant impact on traffic on the local road network. Double yellow lines are also offered along the full length of D’Urton Lane from its junction with the through lane to the end of the cul-de-sac adjacent to the venue.
The application nevertheless conflicted with a Central Lancashire-wide planning strategy designed to maintain a ‘hierarchy’ of development sites and ensure that only ‘small-scale’ development was permitted on plots such as the one proposed. The proposal was also at odds with Preston’s own local plan which seeks to direct development to suitable locations by protecting ‘open countryside’ areas, of which the application site is a part.
However, planning officials said that by responding to an identified need for a place of worship, the plans dovetailed with other elements of local policy. The planning meeting heard that the applicant had identified 311 households “in the immediate local area” for whom the proposed mosque would be their nearest suitable place of worship. Of these, while only 17 were north of the M55 – and just two in the village of Broughton – a total of 73 were within the boundaries of the wider parish of Broughton.
At the February meeting, planning committee member David Borrow – who is also a member of the cabinet responsible for planning and regulation on the council – said he wanted Preston to be “a place where [people] are comfortable living in any part of town knowing there is a place of worship [for them] and that there will be no opposition to [it”]. Responding to the appeal, Chris Hayward, director of development and housing at Preston City Council, said: ‘The Secretary of State generally uses his powers sparingly. Very few requests are called each year and they normally relate to planning requests which are larger than locally.
“We are therefore disappointed to learn that the Secretary of State has appealed to the request for his own determination. We are currently awaiting further information from the Town Planning Inspectorate to facilitate the process, which will be similar to an appeal.
LancsLive has attempted to contact the claimant, planning specialists Cassidy + Ashton – as well as Fatima Ismail – to comment on the latest development. No date has yet been set for the inquest, but briefs and common ground need to be prepared by the parties.
Anyone can comment on or, at the choice of the designated inspector, participate in an investigation on a town planning application entered. Preston City Council will notify those who have already commented on the bid that it has been called.