'How do we move forward as a community with the loss of Markaz?'

The Hippodrome at Golders Green

The Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami have sold the Golders Green Hippodrome - Credit: Harry Taylor

Back in August, I wrote about the decision by Barnet’s Conservative councillors to defer the decision on The Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami’s use of the Hippodrome in Golders Green as an Islamic centre.

This was a simple change of use application from a church to a place of worship, with voluntary reduction of capacity to assuage local concerns around parking and noise. 

It had been four years of delays, and this meeting only came about as the solicitors acting for the Markaz threatened action if the application wasn’t heard. A large, multi-faith group gathered in support of the Markaz ahead of the meeting, and sat with them throughout to show their support but also because during this multi-year saga, the Markaz became a key part of the richly diverse community in Golders Green. 

The meeting was meant to mark the end of delays and we were expecting to celebrate afterwards. After all, council officers had recommended the application for approval and there seemed no reason not to approve it. 

Anne Clarke, Labour Party London Assembly candidate for Barnet and Camden

Anne Clarke wonders whether parking was really the main concern over the Hippodrome's change of use - Credit: Anne Clarke/Labour

Following the committee vote, those who had gathered in support went outside. I can only describe this as a large community huddle. There was shock and anger, but moreover a feeling that this was the end. What was the point of continuing to fight when the council had been so unwelcoming and Barnet’s Conservative majority may well have voted to defer a future decision, or worse, reject?

Since then, we’ve learned that this refugee community has chosen to leave Barnet altogether and that they’ve sold the building to a mega-church.

Ironically, those concerned about parking may find a mega-church makes the parking situation worse. The church can carry on using the full capacity of 3,000, rather than the voluntary reduction by more than half from the Markaz application. But then, apart from a small number of close neighbours, was parking really the concern?

How do we move forward as a community with the loss of Markaz, owing to what is hard to describe as anything other than Islamophobia? It flies in the face of what we believed to be true -that Golders Green and Barnet were open, tolerant and inclusive places. 

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Anne Clarke is London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden.

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