Council rules Chelmsford Muslim Society’s plans need planning permission

Chelmsford Muslim Society has been told it needs planning permission to use a leisure centre as a place of worship.

The society bought Hamptons Sport and Leisure Centre in Great Baddow in February, but has been accused of using the centre as a place of worship without receiving permission from Chelmsford City Council.

It means the society will now probably have to apply for formal planning permission for the centre to be used as a place of worship.

However, the council adds that it does not intend at this time to take enforcement action in respect of the current alleged breach of planning control, until the outcome of an anticipated application is known.

The council awaits confirmation of the society’s next intentions, which may include submitting a planning application.

The sale of the centre for £2.5million to the Chelmsford Muslim Society was met with strong opposition.

The most contentious issue regarding the proposals for the leisure centre was the closure of its three bars.

Another area of concern for people centred around parking in the area.

Ayman Syed, general secretary at the Chelmsford Muslim Society, who issued an open letter ahead of a meeting for residents to voice concerns in January, said the society “is committed to making the centre a success, and we need the continued support of the wider community to do so”.

For daily prayers, he expected the turnout to be beyond 15 to 30 people, lasting approximately ten to 20 minutes.

During Eid prayers, twice a year, numbers may rise to 250 per session, with two prayers each lasting 30 minutes in the morning.

He added: “We are a not-for-profit organisation and have always invested our funds back into the community and charity. The management committee do not take a salary and have worked hard within the Muslim and non-Muslim communities and local projects that they are involved with.

“Purchasing Hamptons was not just so the Muslim community could have a place to pray in, but also to help provide facilities for younger and older people and families with young children in the area. This is why we are committed to offering health and fitness facilities which serve the whole community, regardless of faith.”

However, the society will now have to convince Chelmsford City Council to allow its activities to continue at the centre.

In a letter to interested parties, the council said: “We write to you to update you as to the current position in the ongoing enforcement investigation into an alleged breach of planning control at the Hamptons Sport and Leisure Centre.

“The alleged breach of planning control related to the use of the facility by the Chelmsford Muslim Society as a place of worship and for associated activities.

“As you know the council had sought legal advice to determine whether the use of this facility for these purposes would amount to a material change of use in planning terms, for which express planning permission is required.

“The planning and legal considerations in this matter are complex and highly technical, and it has been for this reason that our considerations have been protracted.

“I can advise however that, based upon the information provided, it is the council’s view on balance that planning permission is required in this instance.

“We have advised the Chelmsford Muslim Society of our findings and are currently awaiting confirmation of their intentions.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter