Preston’s ‘super mosque’ plan could be derailed by government intervention

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There will be a public inquiry into Preston City Council’s decision to grant permission for the three-storey prayer hall on land along the Broughton roundabout, where the M6 ​​and M55 motorways meet. The A6.

The authority’s planning committee voted by a majority in February to approve the striking building, whose design was the winning entry in a prestigious international competition by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The mosque itself is to have a maximum height of 12 metres, while an accompanying minaret rises 30 meters into the air, sitting on a raised ground previously used as a link during the construction of the Broughton Bypass.

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The 12 meter high mosque will have a 30 meter high minaret

However, the development has divided public opinion – with more than 625 letters in support of the scheme, as well as more than 425 objections. Concerns have been raised about the potential impact on traffic – as well as the scale and appearance of the building, which will accommodate 248 prayer mats and associated worshippers.

Preston’s planning officials advised councilors on the committee to give the green light to the application, telling them at the meeting where the issue was discussed that the need for a mosque in the area “tip the balance” in favor of its approval — despite being in conflict with two local planning policies.

The subsequent decision to do just that caused consternation among councilors representing the Preston Rural East neighborhood where the mosque was to be built. One of them, Cllr Graham Jolliffe, wrote to the government asking it to “bring in” the case for further investigation.

The location of the front mosque at the highway end of the Broughton Bypass (Image: Royal Institute of British Architects)

That request, which was also reportedly made by another local politician, has now been accepted – meaning a public inquiry will be held to reassess the application. A planning inspector will then make a recommendation to the Secretary of the Communities, Michael Gove, about whether to stamp or destroy the original consent.

In a letter to Preston City Council from the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities – which has been accessed by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) – the authority said the Secretary of State is particularly interested in being informed about “the extent to which the proposed development is in accordance with the development plan for the area”.

The municipality says it is “disappointed” with the decision to submit the application.

However, Cllr Jolliffe told the LDRS it was a matter of restoring confidence in the planning process – which he said had been severely damaged among those who oppose the mosque at the proposed site.

“Even Preston City Council acknowledged it was against National, Lancashire and Preston policy guidelines – so I’m very pleased that the central government has recognized the strength of our argument and are looking to look at it.

“I’m not against the mosque in the right place, where there are good transport links and it won’t cause a nuisance on a main artery in and out of the city – but I think this is really the wrong building in the wrong place and it is clearly a blatant violation of many different scheduling rules.

“This is an acknowledgment from the Central Government that the concerns of a large majority of local residents in Broughton – and in this area – have been recognized and taken into account.

“So many people said to me after the decision that they just couldn’t understand – so trust in our planning process has been undermined. Maybe this can help restore that.

“It is of national importance that planning rules are followed,” added Cllr Jolliffe.

The committee meeting in February heard from a member of the Muslim community in the area who said that Muslim families moving from other parts of Preston “should not be deprived of a local place of worship for their religious and spiritual well-being”.

Fatima Ismail also told committee members: “Some parents have moved there because of the newly built houses and for about three years they have expressed concern about the lack of a place of worship where they can feel community and peace.

“We second-generation Muslim women like to visit the mosque for our prayers, spirituality and mental health and well-being.

“Having this mosque in the parish of Broughton will not only be a place of worship that is most needed at a time when we all need faith, peace and guidance and something that gives us hope, but also because the design of this mosque is actually unique and the history of this city,’ said Ms. Ismail.

Planning agencies said that nod to Preston’s past — in the form of the building’s minaret that looked like a Victorian mill chimney — was something that weighed in his favor.

One of the main reasons they reversed a previous recommendation to reject the application when it first came before the committee in July was that a plan was now in place to ensure adequate parking for the busiest prayer services.

It was proposed to set up a reservation system for the 150-space car park and to reserve 77 of the spaces for people who have shared a car. Assuming a minimum of two occupants per car, during a maximum presence in the mosque, only 31 worshipers would have to enter the site other than by car.

Lancashire County Council highway officials also said the proposed mosque development was unlikely to have a serious traffic impact on the local road network. Double yellow lines are also proposed along the full length of D’Urton Lane from the junction with the through route to the end of the cul-de-sac adjacent to the site.

The application nevertheless ran counter to a planning strategy for the entire region of Central Lancashire, which was designed to maintain a “hierarchy” of development sites and ensure that only “small-scale” construction should be allowed on plots such as the proposed.

The proposal also conflicted with Preston’s own local plan, which seeks to steer development to suitable sites by protecting areas of “open landscape”, one of which is the application site.

However, the planning officials said that in fulfilling an identified need for a place of worship, the plans were consistent with other elements of local policy.

The planning meeting learned that the applicant had identified 311 households “in the immediate vicinity” for which 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.

Commenting on the call, Chris Hayward, director of development and housing at Preston City Council, said:

“The State Secretary usually makes sparing use of his powers. Very few applications are submitted each year and these usually concern urban planning applications that are larger than the local significance.

“We are therefore disappointed to hear that the Secretary of State has submitted the application for his own decision. We are currently awaiting further information from the Planning Inspectorate to assist in the process, which is similar to an appeal.”

The LDRS has attempted to contact applicant planning specialists Cassidy + Ashton – as well as Fatima Ismail – for comment on the latest development.

A date for the investigation has not yet been set, but the parties are required to prepare statements and common grounds.

Anyone may comment on or, at the discretion of the designated inspector, participate in an investigation into an invoked planning application. Preston City Council will notify those who have already responded to the application that it has been enabled.

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