Councillors delay Golders Green Hippodrome decision
- Credit: Harry Taylor
Barnet councillors deferred a decision on whether or not to rubber-stamp use of the Golders Green Hippodrome as an Islamic community centre – meaning that it will have taken well over a year for a decision to be made.
Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami (MTE) a charity, operates the venue as a community centre and place of worship. It is not a mosque.
MTE believes using the venue as an Islamic community centre should fall within the existing planning permission, given in 2007, which states: "To use building as a church to enrich community with schemes for children, unemployed, elderly etc. To hold concerts, conferences, drama and dance festivals."
Following disputes with the council, it applied in July 2020 to change this to: "Use as a Place of Worship (D1 use) and for ancillary community uses, public conferences and performances."
This came after Barnet took enforcement action against MTE's use of the site in 2019.
Planning officers at the council recommended giving the go-ahead, claiming in their report that the public benefits would outweigh the harm to residents.
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But councillors defied the recommendation at a Monday night meeting, asking to see further plans to mitigate traffic and crowd impacts.
Ed Marsh, chair of Barnet Citizens – an interfaith group which has been advising MTE – said there was "shock and dismay" at the new setback.
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Earlier this year, lawyers for MTE alleged Barnet Council's treatment of their application had amounted to "religious discrimination", which the town hall has always denied. The lawyers alleged the council had "made demands of the Markaz that it did not make of the previous owners, the El-Shaddai Church".
An anonymous poster campaign was heavily criticised earlier this year for spreading Islamophobic rhetoric.
Paul Mew, a traffic consultant for a residents' group, told the committee there would be a "severe impact on congestion and parking".
Speaking in favour of the application, Tamara Joseph, chair of Finchley Progressive Synagogue, claimed some people had sought to “whip up opposition to this application because they are hostile to Islam” and told councillors they had an opportunity “to send a clear message that all faiths are truly welcome here”.
London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden Anne Clarke said the MTE deserved "warmth, welcome, and respect".
The Barnet Labour opposition group later released a statement attacking the deferral and echoing the concerns about religious discrimination.
Cllr Barry Rawlings said he planned to refer the matter to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
The application is now expected to decided on November 30.