Romford mosque’s application to extend opening hours rejected for third time amid traffic and parking concerns

A Romford mosque hoping to extend its opening hours has been refused by Havering Council for the third time.

The Iqrah Education & Cultural Centre (IECC) on Chase Cross Road can currently open only for part of Sunday and Monday, due to a condition imposed on the building in 1999.

The IECC has applied three times in recent years to open seven days a week, applying for shorter hours each time and appealing unsuccessfully to the Planning Inspectorate.

On Thursday, July 1, the council’s planning committee turned down its latest application – asking to open at noon daily and close at 7.30pm on week nights and 5.30pm on weekends – citing concerns about traffic, parking and disturbance to neighbours.

Conservative ward councillor Ray Best, who requested the issue be brought before the committee, told committee members he felt these hours were “still excessive”.

He said: “This will produce hundreds of traffic movements each day, causing excessive parking problems in Chase Cross Road and the surrounding areas.

“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.”

He claimed the 60 objectors who wrote to the committee “all live within 500 yards of the site”, whereas those in favour “probably do not live in the same radius”.

The mosque’s first application asked to open from 4.30am until 11.30pm between March and September, and 6am to 9pm the other months of the year to allow for all five daily prayers.

The second application requested the hours of 7am to 9pm on weekdays and 8am to 5.30pm on weekends, and was appealed to the Planning Inspectorate when the council refused it.

Committee member David Durant expressed concerns that the IECC had applied for hours that do not “meet what you would expect as a Muslim worshipper”.

He said: “Once you [allow it to] open on any day, the likelihood is that, to meet what they actually want, they will extend the opening hours because that’s what the place is for.”

Fellow member Mark Sutton agreed, adding: “Unfortunately, the fact they have not adhered to conditions previously agreed does bring a degree of doubt as to whether conditions will be followed with due care.

“I can’t comprehend why we are sitting here looking at something that has been declined before, even on appeal. It would not be right to put this through based on all the evidence we have seen in the last two or three years.”

Parking at the mosque, which has nine spaces, was also a serious concern, despite the IECC’s promise to have parking marshals and distribute flyers about proper parking to attendees.

Conservative ward councillor Philippa Crowder questioned why marshals were not introduced when complaints from neighbours started and objected to the fact it would be done by the IECC itself.

She said: “It does not sit comfortably with me that we are allowing someone to marshall but we do not know how effectively it will be done.

“This place is not suitable for worship, I really think this is going to be detrimental and harmful to the residents of the surrounding houses.”

Assistant director of planning, Helen Oakerbee, reminded the committee to “only judge the application based on the hours [requested]” rather than what they suspect the IECC wants.

She said: “The charity has decided to make a concession around the times the building would be open. Their preference would be to enable all five prayers but they recognise that that is not possible here.

“You are not allowed to take a guess about what might happen next or whether the applicant will come back from additional hours.

“If the applicant comes back subsequently, we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Accepting these hours does not bind you to accept any further applications for hours over and above that.”

While the IECC did not attend the meeting, its planning consultant Mark Pender argued the reduced hours would avoid noise at “times when residents could reasonably expect peaceful enjoyment of their homes”.

He said: “As a registered charity, the applicant wants to ensure its use will be carried out in a neighbourly and respectful way; to do otherwise would be wrong.”

Six councillors, including the chair and vice-chair, voted to refuse. They included all four Conservative councillors and the two representatives of the Residents’ Group and Independent Residents’ Group.

Councillor John Tyler, from the Upminster and Cranham Residents Group, abstained and Labour councillor Paul McGeary voted for the application, despite not speaking during the debate.

Representatives from the mosque had not supplied a response by the time of publication.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter