Preston 'super mosque' approved for Broughton and hailed a sign of "cohesion and community" amid concerns over traffic and how it will look

A landmark mosque is set to be built alongside one of the busiest road junctions in Preston after getting the green light from councillors.

By Paul Faulkner
Friday, 4th February 2022, 4:37 pm

The building - which was the winning design in a Royal Institute of British Architects competition - will be constructed on raised grassland at the Broughton interchange, where the M6 and M55 meet the A6.

Preston City Council' s planning committee granted outline approval for the facility, the main body of which will be 12 metres high, with an accompanying 30-metre-tall minaret.

Members deferred a decision on the application last July - when the design had not yet been chosen - because they were unable to judge its suitability for the location. They also requested more evidence of the need for a mosque in the area.

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How the new mosque will look at the Broughton interchange

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On that occasion, the authority's planning officers had recommended that the proposal be refused, both because of the absence of sufficient information about what it would look like, but also due to concerns over parking and the fact that the plot was in an area designated as open countryside in local planning policies.

This time around, officers said that the parking issue had been overcome after the applicant pledged to operate a booking system for spaces which would be enforced by automatic number plate recognition technology. They also concluded that while the mosque would not normally be deemed suitable for the proposed location, other material planning considerations "tipped the balance" in favour of approval.

That was because the place of worship would fulfil a separate Central Lancashire-wide policy designed to ensure that communities "have sufficient facilities where there is a need" for them.

A bird's eye view of the plot where the mosque will be built at the junction of the M55, M6 and A6 in Broughton (credit: RIBA)

However, during a packed meeting at the town hall, need, parking and suitability were the subject of intense debate both between committee members and those speaking for and against the proposal.

Broughton Parish Council chair Pat Hastings said that to the top of the minaret the mosque would be akin to a stack of eight double decker buses on a site which was already 12 metres above the motorway junction.

"Design is subjective, but height isn't. It is totally out of keeping with the Grade II-listed [St. John's] parish church set in the valley below and is a visual hazard to the motorway," said Cllr Hastings, who added that there was not a "demonstrated need" within the parish for a mosque.

However, committee member David Borrow said that the council had a "wider responsibility to communities across the city".

He also asked: "If there was an application for a synagogue or a Buddhist temple in the parish of Broughton, would the parish council object to those [on] the same basis that the populations following those religions was very small and therefore it would be inappropriate for a place of worship to be built in the parish [area]?"

Cllr Hastings said that the issue was that the majority of the families who would use the facility live in Fulwood and so would be travelling into Broughton and adding to traffic issues in the area.

"This is not about a religion and I object to you bringing that into it," she added.

The meeting heard that the applicant had identified 311 households "in the immediate local area" for which the proposed building would be their closest aligned place of worship. Of those, while only 17 were to the north of the M55 - and only two in Broughton village - a total of 73 were within the borders of the wider Broughton parish.

Speaking in support of the application, Fatima Ismail, a local scout group leader, said that the need for the mosque was obvious - and that Muslim families moving from other areas of Preston "should not be deprived of a local place of worship for their religious and spiritual wellbeing".

"Some parents have moved there because of the newly-built houses and, for about three years they...have expressed concern about the lack of a place of worship where they can feel community and peace.

"We, the second-generation Muslim women, like to visit the mosque for our prayers, spirituality and mental health and wellbeing

"Having this mosque in Broughton parish will not only provide a most-needed place of worship at a time when we all need faith, peace and guidance and something to give us hope, but also because the design of this mosque is actually unique and encompasses the history of this town," Mrs. Ismail said.

She added that the mosque would be open to the wider community on several days during the year so that people could “come and see the place and what it's about and [see] that we’re not scary”.

Alban Cassidy, the agent for the application, said that the proposed 150-space car park went "over and above" what he had ever known for a facility of this type, which would have space for 248 worshippers at any one service.

The car park booking system, he said, had also been designed to address the concerns of locals. Seventy-seven of the spaces will be reserved for people who have car-shared. Based on a minimum of two occupants per car, then during maximum attendance at the mosque, only 31 worshippers would have to access the site by means other than car.

However, Preston Rural East ward member Ron Woollam said that "too many assumptions" had been made about car occupancy and he warned that double yellow lines which will be painted on D'Urton Lane would "simply not work, as it will encourage people to park further away"

He added: "This proposal is for a huge building, which will dominate the skyline for miles and have a major impact on residents' lives in the Broughton and Fulwood areas.

"I really don't think much consideration has been given to the current traffic flow situation, let alone the future if this development goes ahead."

“The junction and surrounding roads are renowned for heavy congestion, particularly in the summer months when people are travelling for holidays and day trips."

However, Garrison ward member Freddie Bailey said that the application embodied "co-operation, cohesion and community".

He added: "This place of worship will become a symbol which shows Preston's diversity and rich culture. Two places of worship across the road from each other, welcoming people into Preston [and anybody] passing by."

Cllr Bailey also stressed that those living south of the motorway - and so outside of Broughton - were nevertheless just "a stone's throw away" from the proposed mosque and so within the area it would be intended to serve.

In their recommendation for approval, planning officers recognised the "the innovative and high quality design [of the building] which draws upon the history of Preston". The structure is intended to be reminiscent of a cotton mill, with the minaret being a nod to a Victorian-era mill chimney.

Committee member Harry Landless did not dispute the assessment of the aesthetics, but was unconvinced that design should lend any weight to development in a location where it would not usually be permitted for anything other than small-scale buildings acting as so-called "in-filling".

He said that by that logic, it meant that anybody could take an empty field in open countryside and "build the most fantastically-designed building...and say we can justify it because it is a building of superb architectural significance".

However, his committee colleague David Borrow said that the plot was now countryside in name only and that the Broughton bypass had transformed it into "an island surrounded by dual carriageways".

He also warned of the need to guard against Preston becoming "ghettoised", with different communities having their own areas.

"I want Preston to be a place where [people] are comfortable living in any part of the city, knowing that there is a place of worship [for them] and that there won't be opposition to [it]. Because that's the sort of city we want to see, where people can live [anywhere] across the city," Cllr Borrow said.

Fellow member Neil Darby said that the application was one of the "more complicated" ones that the committee had dealt with, but added that, on balance, he believed that it should be approved.

Cllr Landless made an bid to have the matter deferred because Broughton Parish Council had only learned last week that the application was now recommended for approval, having purportedly been told at a meeting with planning officers in November that the recommendation remained one of refusal. He said that they needed to be given time to consult with the authority over the evidence that had led to the reversal.

However, his attempt was voted down and, after almost three hours of debate, the application itself was passed by eight votes to three.

In a brief comment to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting, Fatima Ismail said she was "delighted" by the decision.

'NOT CORRUPT'

More than 625 letters of support had been sent to the city council backing the mosque plan, while over 425 people lodged objections.

It was the latter group that Preston Rural East member Graham Jolliffe said he had been contacted by in their "scores".

He claimed that the decision to defer the matter last July, when the officer recommendation at that time had been for refusal, was a "political decision" - and he also questioned why there had now been a change of mind when the proposal still went against aspects of local planning policy.

"What is the point of having rules and regulations if they're ignored or, worse, if they are only applied against those who do not have the power and influence to find their way around them.

"Residents believe PCC [Preston City Council] is either unable or unwilling to challenge submissions by the applicant and instead that [it has] succumbed to pressure to overlook your own city policy and national policies.

"'Dysfunctional' at best, 'corrupt' at worse are two of the words I have heard used in respect of this approach to planning.

"I do understand that there may be a need [for a mosque], but a need does not make an unsuitable site suitable," said Cllr Jolliffe who also warned that the decision could see other "marginal" applications for development now flood in.

Planning case officer James Mercer said every application was judged on its own merits, while committee chair Peter Moss condemned the reputed public suggestion of corruption and said he was "really disappointed" that it had been repeated in the room.

He said that it was an accusation against councils that is often repeated on social media, but that "nothing could be further from the truth".

Cllr Moss added: "This committee doesn't make political decisions, this committee makes decisions on material planning considerations and that is exactly what we'll do today."