Vandals have struck after a row broke out over efforts to install broadband equipment near a mosque.
Police were called on Tuesday morning after residents living in the Fishwick Parade area of Preston protested against the work taking place on a footpath outside Masjid-E-Aqsa mosque in Great Townley Street by Riversway-based Internexus.
Although it is known that protesters wanted to disrupt the work, it is not known who carried out the vandalism.
An Internexus spokesman said: “When workmen arrived at the site on Tuesday morning to continue with the installation, concrete had been poured into the works, and ducts and other equipment had been cut and filled with concrete. This was reported to local police who attended the site.
“A purported representative of the Mosque was stood in the works, preventing workman from clearing the concrete before it was set.”
The foundations were for a 15 meter pole, which would eventually hold a wireless transmitter on top. A concrete plinth for a cabinet that would contain telecommunications equipment was also being installed.
Lancashire Police confirmed they attended the dispute but no action was taken. However, it was agreed that work would be suspended for 48 hours while Mosque trustees sought legal advice over Internexus’ rights to carry out the work.
The local community has been been frustrated at a perceived lack of dialogue over the work, as well as concerns about the placement of the equipment and health implications.
Tahir Ali, a volunteer at the Mosque, said he was aware of the police attending the protest, but did not know about any acts of vandalism.
He said: “It’s a prime location for us and where they’re putting the box is wrong. As well as a Mosque, there is a supplementary school there for children aged between five and 16, and that area is a collection point.
“There’s a sewerage systems under there and it would cause problems if we want to carry out work on the Mosque in the future. There’s also a question mark over health implications.”
Intenexus said alternative sites for the equipment had been considered, but “they were not considered appropriate or feasible for a variety of reasons.”
The company also said it has been in communication with the trustees of the Mosque since October 7 and initial works were suspended to allow for a meeting to take place at the Mosque on October 18 to further discuss and address the Mosque’s concerns.
A spokesman for the company said: “No legitimate concerns were raised and Internexus’ representatives were not given adequate opportunity to address the Mosque’s concerns.”
Mr Ali said one meeting had taken place, but another he described as a “leaflet drop”.
He added: “There needs to be serious consultation on the matter. Internexus are not engaging in conversation with us. We want to mediate, but there is no dialogue. They say they have considered alternative locations, but they’re failing to share evidence of that. They won’t discuss what sites they’ve looked at.
“We’re not against digitisation, but other locations need to be used. This is a whole community issue, there’s 1000 users of this Mosque and school, but they’re (Internexus) having none of it.
“There’s also a wider issue of works like this being carried out under permitted development. It seems that if you have permitted development in an area, then you can do what you like.”
Fishwick and Frenchwood Councillor Yakub Patel said: “The number one priority for us is the health implications and health and safety for our children.
“It’s a great concern.
“As a representative for the area, I support Mosque in their concerns and I think it’s only right to have proper dialouge about what’s going on.”
Certain types of work can be carried out without needing to apply for planning permission. These are called Permitted Development Rights. They derive from a general planning permission granted not by the local authority but by Parliament.
In relation to broadband installation, relaxing planning laws has proved successful in speeding up the process of superfast broadband rollout, providing planning certainty and reducing the costs of deployment.
The Internexus spokesman added: “The roll-out of our ultrafast broadband in Preston is dependent upon the installation of network apparatus.
“The placement is subject to both regulations and technical restrictions that mean the options for alternative positions in this location are extremely limited.”
What the Mosque says:
The Aqsa Mosque in Fishwick Parade was established in 1986 and has around 500 regular worshipers and a supplementary school that provides a service for more than 180 children.
A statement ftom the mosque states: “The mosque is and will always be an integral part of the community which has established strong links in a diverse and tolerant community.
“Over the years the mosque has grown reflecting the growing Muslim population and has ensured all expansion has been self funded and in consultation with the wider community.
“Plans are regularly reviewed and shared, and we are currently looking to increase the entrance size and install some windows in that area to improve lighting.
“It is precisely in this area that Internexus has decided, without consultation, to erect their construction.
“The mosque has acquired funds ‘organically’ over the years from contributions from the community in order to re-construct our mosque.
“The location of the apparatus and the pole impact our plans and current use of this particular area of the building in many ways.
“There has not been any form of consultation or information provided until a representative of our organisation asked a contractor who was marking the pavement as to what’s going to happen at the location?