'Appalling that Golders Green's Markaz has yet to receive planning permission'
Anne Clarke AM, Barnet and Camden
- Credit: Harry Taylor
The tragic events unfolding in Afghanistan this month, and the images on our televisions of a humanitarian and refugee crisis reminds us to think of how we treat the communities who are already here.
In Barnet, the Conservative-run council is unwilling to show leadership and embrace the Iraqi community, most of them refugees, that are our friends and neighbours as they seek a new centre.
It is appalling that four years on, Barnet Council has still not agreed permission for the Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami to use the former BBC Hippodrome in Golders Green as a place for their community to gather. The Markaz bought the Hippodrome four years ago and need a simple change in the allowed use from “church” to “place of worship”. Back in in 2007 this very same building was granted change of use permission to become a church. That change was not delayed.
During their 2018 council election campaign the Conservatives pushed a leaflet through the doors of the diverse and wonderful council ward I now serve with a big bold heading saying “Islamic Centre Opposition”. They set out their stall and tone for the years of senseless opposition that were to come. This was one election promise they have managed to keep.
Over the past four years the Markaz have hosted several community days, opening their centre to the public. Sadly, I was the only councillor at the first event and subsequent ones have only been attended by Labour colleagues. Where have the Conservatives been?
Rather than working with this community and those living nearby, Barnet have taken a dither and delay approach that leaves everyone unhappy. There are residents who raised concerns about parking and traffic while being genuinely welcoming of the Markaz. They haven’t been listened to by the council, and are left frustrated as they rightly do not want to be associated with those who have worked with a “mosque buster”.
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The worst outcome is if the Barnet Conservatives accomplish what seems to be their mission and give the Markaz no other option but to leave the borough. That will leave a dark stain on the reputation of the Barnet and likely leave the Grade II listed building empty once again. The only winner would be sickening agenda of the far right.
If Barnet Council continue to fail to deliver upon their commitments to an existing refugee community it will seriously undermine the reputation we have for supporting people fleeing persecution, for whom we have a duty of care, and lead to serious questions about whether the council has discriminated against this community.
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Anne Clarke is London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden