Barnet’s Labour councillors have slammed the vote by Conservative councillors to force a deferral of The Markaz change of use planning application for the Hippodrome in Golders Green at last night’s Strategic Planning Committee (19 July).
The planning application to change allowed use of the Hippodrome from ‘church’ to ‘place of worship’ has taken over a year to come before the Planning Committee. This type of application is normally a straightforward decision made by council planning officers.
The Markaz, a Shia Muslim organisation made up of refugees who fled persecution in Iraq, have been asked to provide a travel plan and an event management plan for worshippers using the venue, although the numbers attending the venue are only around 150 most weeks, with a cap of 500 on attendees apart from 10 high holy days where 1,400 are allowed. This is significantly below the 3,000 people allowed at events when the Hippodrome was a concert hall and church.
The Christian organisation in previous occupation of the Hippodrome was not required to provide a travel plan to mitigate parking or an event management plan. Barnet Council are looking at special extra parking provision for another religious organisation just 5 minutes’ walk away from the Hippodrome.
Planning officers had recommended the application for approval, but the Conservative Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee suggested that the application be deferred for even more information on traffic, and the travel and event management plan so members could vote on them – even though comprehensive plans were part of the planning committee report. These details are usually finalised and agreed by planning officers.
The Markaz had already sent a letter before action to the Council following the delays to the determination of the application over the last year, alleging religious discrimination.
Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Barry Rawlings 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.
“I will be referring the whole episode to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for them to investigate.”
Childs Hill Labour councillor and Barnet & Camden AM, 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. This planning meeting should have marked the end of years of uncertainty, but Barnet Tories instead decided to defer and delay the application. Shame on them.”
For more information on the deferral at Strategic Planning see: https://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/decision-to-approve-golders-green-islamic-centre-postponed/