Havering councillor faces complaint over mosque application comment

Havering Council is formally investigating a Conservative councillor accused of “prejudicial, xenophobic and racist behaviour” towards Muslim residents.

Havering Park councillor Ray Best was the subject of a formal complaint by one of his ward constituents after comments he made during a planning committee meeting on July 1.

Cllr Ray Best

Cllr Best spoke at the meeting to oppose an application from a mosque in his ward, Iqrah Education and Cultural Centre (IECC) in Chase Cross Road, to extend its opening hours.

During his speech, he claimed the 60 objectors who wrote to the committee asking them to reject the application “all live within 500 yards of the site”, whereas those who wrote in favour “probably do not live in the same radius”.

In a complaint seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, a Muslim resident said they “took great personal offence” to this comment, arguing it “effectively referred to [them] as an outsider”.

They wrote: “Had Cllr Best checked the application comments, he would see that those in support are not only very local to the mosque, but are his ward members.

“Without even checking its accuracy, he made a sweeping false statement which assumed anyone who might pray or worship in a mosque could not possibly live in Collier Row.  

“Cllr Best’s comments were prejudicial, xenophobic and racist. I took great personal offence… as did other supporters of the application I spoke to who also observed the planning meeting.

“He effectively referred to me as an outsider even though I work in Havering and am resident in Havering Park; the very ward he was elected to represent.”

The complainant said they believe Cllr Best sees Collier Row “as being a Christian, white area where Muslims and ethnic minorities are either not welcome or seen as outsiders”.

The IECC, which has applied for extended hours twice previously, requested to open at noon daily, closing at 7.30pm on weeknights and 5.30pm on weekends.

It is currently only allowed to open for part of the day on Sundays and Mondays, because of a condition imposed on the building in 1999, before it became a mosque.

Cllr Best told committee members the hours requested were “excessive”, adding: “This will produce hundreds of traffic movements each day, causing excessive parking problems. 

“It’s not suitable in this area, which has very limited parking. Residents in surrounding properties [say] visitors park wherever they like, in front of people’s driveways and on pavements.

“Car doors banging and light pollution from headlights have been a constant source of complaints and these are from meetings outside the opening hours.

“The applicant has never abided by the existing opening times and I see no reason to assume they will abide by any other opening times the council may impose on them.”

The application was heard by the committee, rather than being decided by council officers, on Cllr Best’s request. It was rejected by members despite officers recommending they accept.

Regarding the complaint, a Havering Council spokesperson said: “We take any complaint like this extremely seriously and can confirm this has been passed to the monitoring officer to investigate as part of the corporate complaints process.

“As a council, we do not tolerate any xenophobic, prejudicial or racist language or behaviour.”

Cllr Best was contacted for comment on Friday July 9, but has yet to respond.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter