Shouts of ‘shame’ as prayer hall approved
9:12am Friday 20th July 2012 in Local
ANGRY residents bombarded council planning chiefs with shouts of “hang your head in shame” after controversial plans to convert an Islamic academy into a prayer hall were given the green light.
Plans had been submitted by the Azhar Academy, in Devonshire Road, Heaton , to allow it to operate two prayer rooms from first daylight until one hour after dusk, 365 days a year.Objectors claim the hours of operation could be from 4am to 11pm.
Residents were so determined to defeat the application that they all contributed to pay for the services of a planning expert, Carl Copestake, to represent them at yesterday’s meeting.
Mr Copestake told the committee: “These prayer rooms could accommodate up to 50 people.
“It’s clear that the sound of 50 people praying simultaneously could be loud.”
Planning permission was granted in 2009 for a change of use from a house to an education centre at the site, on the proviso it would only be opened from 10am to 9pm Monday to Friday, 10am to 8pm on Saturdays, and between 10am and 6pm on Sundays and bank holidays, and that it would not be used as a prayer hall.
The latest application was supported by a petition with 36 signatures, while two petitions opposing the plans were also received with a total of 104 names.
Bolton West MP Julie Hilling wrote to the council registering constituents’ objections, while Heaton and Lostock councillor Colin Shaw also wrote saying he had “never seen such a massive backlash to a planning application in his 18 years on the council”.
Speaking in support of the application at yesterday’s planning meeting, Mohammed Mangera said the facility had been a boost to the area.
He said: “This proposal is for a small area, not for a mosque, but for a small prayer area, the type of which exists at Bolton University, “The Trafford Centre or here at Bolton Council .”
Planning chief Kevan Jones said: “While I understand both sides of the argument, this is not a mosque, which is a word that’s been used several times, but an education facility. We should review it in 12 months.”
Councillors agreed to grant the application for a trial 12 months by a vote of 10 to eight, bringing applause from some sections of a packed public gallery, but shouts of derision from others.