Chelmsford Muslims want to “heal the divisions” within a local community by allowing its mosque to be used for a variety of leisure activities such as indoor sport.
Chelmsford Muslim Society, which owns Hamptons Sports and Leisure Centre in Great Baddow, has argued its current use as a mosque does not “amount to a material change of use”.
The owners have applied for a certificate of proposed lawfulness for confirmation that the site in Tydemans, off Beehive Lane, can be used in connection with, amongst other things, public worship or religious instruction.
It adds it is not seeking to create a dedicated religious centre, but rather it wants Chelmsford City Council to effectively regularise the existing situation by legally recognising that limited levels of prayer can take place as one of a number of community uses at the centre.
Their submission to the council argue that in effect there is no material difference in planning terms whether a room within the centre is used for prayers, pilates, yoga or a public meeting, provided it forms part of a wider mix of community uses.
Other community uses on the site such as tennis, squash, meeting rooms and other events are expected to continue.
In a statement to Chelmsford City Council as part of its application for a certificate of proposed lawfulness it says “limited uses connected to public worship or religious instruction would not amount to a material change of use” and would fall within the existing permitted ‘Community Use’ of the site.
Hamptons Sports and Leisure Centre in Great Baddow was put up for sale at the end of 2018 and it was revealed a year later that the Chelmsford Muslim Society had placed a £2 million takeover bid for the site.
A petition was launched by residents determined to stop the sale after the prospective owners claimed the venue would become a “very good mosque”, with current plans suggesting it could accommodate more than 500 worshippers.
The society bought Hamptons Sport and Leisure Centre in Great Baddow in February 2020, but has been accused of using the centre as a place of worship without receiving permission from Chelmsford City Council. It was told later in 2020 it needs planning permission to use a leisure centre as a place of worship.
If granted the certificate of proposed lawfulness would essentially negate the need for a planning application.
A statement with Chelmsford City Council from the agent says: “The purpose of this certificate is to resolve the ongoing issues at Hampton Sport and leisure in respect of its use, in part, for an element of public worship, and other associated activities, alongside a number of other community uses.
“The applicant would like obtain a certificate to clarify the range of community uses that are permitted to take place to Hampton Sport and Leisure under the existing planning consent.
“The applicant is under no obligation to make this application as the uses are already permitted (i.e. do not require formal consent) or do not fall within the definition of development, but feels, in the interests of social unity, that it would be beneficial to do so.
“Having a certificate to confirm this would allow the community to move forward and heal the divisions that have arisen as a consequence of an ongoing perceived breach of planning control.”