Plans for a controversial new mega-mosque in Dudley will not go ahead, after a £325,000 out-of-court settlement to end the eight-year planning dispute was unexpectedly turned down by Dudley Council. Instead, an “action group” will be set up to find a new site for a mosque by the end of the year.
Feuding between Muslim community leaders was exposed during a two-day hearing last month. Afterwards, Dudley Council’s overview and scrutiny management board recommended not accepting the out-of-court settlement offer from the Dudley Muslim Association (DMA) to build on the proposed site.
Councillor Dave Tyler, chairman of the scrutiny board, said that after hearing evidence from all sides, it was clear that “significant historical opposition” to the Hall Street site was “likely to be exacerbated if a development there went ahead,” Dudley News reports.
A dispute over the appropriateness of the planed construction and the proposed Hall Street location of the mosque, Muslim community center, sports facilities, Islamic school and two-story car park has raged since 2007.
The mega-mosque complex was granted planning permission in 2008. However, objections mounted and the council incurred over £213,000 in legal costs and democratically decided to use a legal clause to buy back the land from the DMA for £150.
The £325,000 out of court settlement was being offered to “override the democratic process” of the council, and so push ahead with construction to end the saga.
Councillor Tyler said it was rejected in the end as, “We did not receive any reassurance from the DMA of a completion date if the settlement had been recommended and the group’s governance and business planning around the proposals is vague.”
Adding: “There was also some uncertainty as to whether the proposal was a firm offer from the DMA or subject to further consultation.” As we reported here, the DMA could not agree on who their general secretary was at the hearing, and a feud was exposed within the Muslim community which included division over whether or not they actually wanted to make the £325,000 offer.
However, Amjid Raza, a spokesman for DMA, said it was a “solid offer made in good faith.” He said, “it is clear the council does not wish to settle out of court so this issue still remains politicized.”
Adding: “The Court of Appeal hearing is scheduled to take place in October and we hope that justice will prevail. If we win that will give us the right to appeal, it’s not the end of the story.”
Raza derided the proposed action group as “yet another delay tactic by the council.” Leader of the council, Pete Lowe, stressed that all parties in the council were now united in the view that a new mosque is need for the first time, and called the action group “a step in the right direction.”
Current councilor, and former deputy leader of the council, Shaukat Ali, branded the decision “a farce” and accused the authority for bowing to “political pressures”.
He said: “The report isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The whole process has been lip service, this isn’t reality TV, this is life.
“This council has gone a bit too far in the way it has dealt with this particular community. The talk of setting up an action group is a farce. I was involved with a task-and-finish group for six months and nothing was achieved – what’s to say this group will achieve anything?”
Adding: “In my view, the council has been unfair on this matter throughout. There are political pressures, people feel they may lose their seats but who are they giving in to? Far right extremist people who come and disrupt our town?”
The sustained opposition to the proposed mosque at the Hall Street site has been over the location and the size of the plans, but not against a new mosque per se. Features such as the minarets, say, were initially planned to be 108 feet tall, and would have dwarf local medieval buildings.
It is argued that the vast plot of land, of which only a small part will be used, should be used to create local jobs, and that many of the facilities planned for the “community center” are already available in town. Building the mega mosque, therefore, would merely serve to further segregate and impoverish the town, critics have claimed.