Golders Green Islamic centre decision delay

Conservative councillors requested further details about the application, delaying the decision by five months


Lawyers for the Islamic centre in Golders Green have criticised Barnet Council’s decision to postpone a decision on the centre’s planning application for the premises.

Conservative councillors requested further details about the application “at the last moment”, delaying the decision by five months.

Sarah Sackman, who is acting for the The Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami group (MTE), said it was hard to see how it has “not been treated differently to other religious groups who have previously used the building”.

At a meeting of Barnet Council’s strategic planning committee on Monday evening, councillors agreed to defer the decision over a change of use application for the building.

However, the decision has been attacked for “ignoring” the council’s own planning officers’ advice to approve the change of use from a church to a place of worship.

Barnet Council officers had recommended approval of the application, which is supported by local progressive synagogues and leading figures from within the Jewish community.

Ed Marsh, chair of Barnet Citizens, which has been supportive of the Markaz application, said the organisation was “shocked and dismayed that councillors have caused yet another delay and failed to approve their own officers’ recommendations.

“Barnet Council has put a series of obstacles in the way of the Markaz that were never required of the church that used the Hippodrome for 10 years up to 2017. Since then the Markaz and its members have done everything the council has asked of them but are still treated differently to any other religious group in Barnet.”

Typically, this type of application is a straightforward decision made by council planning officers.

The MTE has been attempting to establish an Islamic community centre at the site since 2017.

Barry Rawlings, Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, said: “The way Barnet Council has handled this application is shameful, with completely unnecessary delays and spurious requests for additional information.

“They have clearly treated this Muslim organisation in a different way to other religious organisations and most people will see this — and the disgraceful deferral of the application last night — for what it is, Islamophobia.

“The actions of both the Council and the Conservative administration make a mockery of the Council’s recent updated Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion policy, and its supposed zero-tolerance policy against racism.”

Labour councillors said they would be referring the situation to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for them to investigate potential discrimination.

Dan Thomas, leader of the Council responded by saying: “Cllr Rawlings’ accusations are nonsense and he knows it. This is a planning application and will be decided as all planning applications are, in the context of planning law.

"The Council often defers applications, and doing so gives the officers time to work with the applicant to resolve outstanding issues.

“We’re incredibly proud of our diverse borough, and are conscious of supporting all our communities in every decision we take.

“Cllr Rawlings has said he is going to refer this matter to the EHRC – a body his Party knows intimately. This is, simply, political theatre from the Barnet Labour Leader who is seeking to sow division that he knows doesn’t exist."

He added: “We look forward to the Markaz team working with officers over the coming months and bringing this application back to be further considered in the autumn”.

Childs Hill Labour councillor Anne Clarke said: “The Markaz bought the Hippodrome in good faith, they wanted a centre for their refugee community and should have had the same welcome as any other faith group in Barnet.

“Despite the treatment they’ve received from Barnet Council, they have always warmly welcomed the wider community into the space.”

A representative of Golders Green Residents Environment Group (GGREG) said they welcomed the decision taken by Barnet councillors to delay making a decision “until Markaz do what they have to date resisted and produce travel, transport, noise and crowd control plans”.

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