Preston 'super mosque' gets the go-ahead after government agrees with "compelling" case made for the place of worship

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A “landmark” mosque is to be built alongside one of the busiest junctions in Preston after the government gave the green light to a proposal that sparked a public inquiry last year.

The Brick Veil Mosque is now set to take shape on a plot of land overlooking the Broughton Interchange, where the M55 meets the A6 - Garstang Road - close to the M6.

A government minister agreed with the conclusion of a planning inspector that there was a “compelling” need for an Islamic place of worship on the outskirts of the city.

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The striking structure - the winning design in a worldwide competition that attracted more than 200 entries - was approved by Preston City Council's planning committee almost a year ago. Members were told that it would accommodate 248 prayer mats and associated worshippers.

The government has decided that a new mosque can be built alongside the M55 in Preston (image: RIBA)The government has decided that a new mosque can be built alongside the M55 in Preston (image: RIBA)
The government has decided that a new mosque can be built alongside the M55 in Preston (image: RIBA)

However, the building - which will stand 12 metres high, with an accompanying 30-metre-tall minaret - divided local opinion, with the proposal attracting 625 letters of support when it was first tabled, but also 425 objections.

It was against that backdrop that Wyre and Preston North MP Ben Wallace and city councillor Graham Jolliffe requested that the plans be ‘called in’ for consideration by the government.

That resulted in a planning inquiry being held in August last year, during which more than 50 hours of evidence was presented at Preston Town Hall both for and against the mosque blueprint.

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It has now been revealed that Darren Hendley, the independent inspector chairing the hearings, subsequently recommended that the government uphold the city’s council's approval of the scheme. Housing and planning minister Lucy Frazer MP published a decision letter on Monday in which, acting on behalf of Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, she agreed with the inspector's assessment.

The benefits of the new mosque outweigh the limited impact it will have on the setting of the nearby St. John the Baptist Church, according to a planning inspector  (image:  Google)The benefits of the new mosque outweigh the limited impact it will have on the setting of the nearby St. John the Baptist Church, according to a planning inspector  (image:  Google)
The benefits of the new mosque outweigh the limited impact it will have on the setting of the nearby St. John the Baptist Church, according to a planning inspector (image: Google)

Cllr Jolliffe said that while he appreciated that some of the residents of his Preston Rural East ward would be disappointed, the local authority’s original decision had now been “validated” and it was time to “move on”.

However, Mr. Wallace - a government cabinet member in his role as the UK’s defence secretary - expressed his disappointment at the fact that Preston’s local plan, with which the mosque proposal was found to be partially in conflict, had “yet again… [been] junked by people who do not live anywhere near the neighbourhood”.

Following the government’s acceptance of his recommendation, Darren Hendley’s reasons for backing the approval of the mosque have also now been set out.

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The inquiry had heard evidence on a raft of issues that were in dispute between the applicant and the city council on the one hand and Broughton Parish Council - which opposed the scheme - on the other.

The points of contention included the potential impact of the proposed place of worship on the road network, the character and appearance of the area and the setting of the nearby Grade II*-listed St. John The Baptist Church. There was also lengthy debate about whether there was even any need for a new mosque in that part of Preston.

The inquiry was presented with a map identifying around 300 households whose members, it was claimed, were expected to attend the mosque – almost all of which lay just to the south of the M55.

While the parish council had argued that there was demand for such a facility in North Preston - but not in the Broughton parish area itself - Mr. Hendley was unequivocal in his conclusion that “there is a demonstrable need for a mosque in this location…and the need is compelling”.

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He also found that the development “would not have an unacceptable effect on highway safety” - either as a result of the number of trips generated nor by any inadequacy in the 150 car parking spaces to be provided under a pre-booked system for worshippers.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hendley heaped praise on the design of the building and the rigorous process that had been undertaken as part of the Royal Institute of British Architects competition to whittle down 213 submissions to the winning entry by the London-based architectural practice Luca Poian Forms.

He said in his recommendation to the government he said that the proposed site was in a “gateway location… that would befit a landmark building” like the “high quality” one that had been chosen.

The inspector added that the classification of the plot as “open countryside” - the reason that it did not comply with Preston’s own plan - “underplay[s] the influence of the M55 and A6” - while he also considered there would be only “limited” harm to the heritage asset of the parish church in the event that the mosque were built.

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However, Mr. Hendley did acknowledge what he described as the “understandable concern” over how the applicant - Preston-based architectural and planning firm Cassidy + Ashton - had “sought to engage with the local community over the design”.

He noted that their consultation had been “restricted…to the potential users of the building and then relied on the [wider] consultation process that the city council carried out in its statutory function when it was considering the planning application”.

Cllr Jolliffe said he hoped that the applicant would reflect on that criticism as the scheme moves into the construction phase.

“I don’t think they communicated very well with the current residents, so they now really need to…have a lot more conversations about when they intend to start work, what they’re [going to be] doing and how it might impact people - taking people’s concerns on board and working with the community so that they don't build up a store of ill will.

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“I know how disappointed a lot of local residents will be, but I can also appreciate how pleased that the local Muslim community will [be to] have a new mosque to look forward to and many years of the memories and the cultural celebrations that they’re going to have there. So I recognise that there are an awful lot of positives to it,” Cllr Jolliffe added.

The planning inspector concluded that “the harm” that would arise from the proposal stemmed from it being in conflict with the local development plan ”as a whole” and the impact it would have on the significance of the church - which he put at the “lower end of the scale of less than substantial harm”. However, he and the secretary of state decided that the latter issue was outweighed by the public benefits of the mosque and, overall, that “material considerations” indicated that permission should be granted for the building in spite of the development plan breach.

Broughton Parish Council chair Pat Hastings told the Post that she and her colleagues were “disappointed” with the decision, adding: “We did our best for our parishioners.”

“But we do welcome the conditions [imposed as part of the permission] and hope that these will be adhered to and that Preston City Council will keep a watching brief.”

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Those stipulations include the submission of detailed drainage plans before work on the site can commence, a restriction on the use of the building so that it is solely operated as a mosque and a ban on any “external amplified calls to prayer” at the location.

Cllr Hastings said that the parish authority’s members had “listened to the residents’ views and voted considering the needs of the entire community”.

“We believed it was the right thing to do to turn down the application and maintained our position until we reached the end of the democratic process.

“Broughton Parish Council has no issues with another place of worship in the parish, [but] the proposed site will cause issues with the local transport network and the setting of the parish church as well as [the new] structure showing [an] over development of the site.

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“The parish council would like to take this opportunity to thank the consultants who worked diligently to try to achieve the best results for our community.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Jolliffe repeated his concerns about a planning process that had seen a development approved when it was in breach of elements of both Preston and Central Lancashire-wide policies.

“Hopefully, [the inquiry outcome] will reassure residents that Preston City Council has not been acting like a cowboy-type organisation and just making things up on the hoof. And I sympathise with [council planning officers] - it’s not an easy job that they’ve got.

“But… the flaws in the [system] are obviously not addressed by [the inquiry], because it just uses exactly the same process to come to exactly the same conclusion. It’s basically saying [that the application] is against all of these policies - and so the man in the street is asking, ‘If [that’s the case], how can it be allowed?’

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“To the uninitiated - and I’m not an expert - it seems to [be a matter of]: ‘It’s a lovely building, so let’s just build it.’

“But this now needs to be a break [and] and a kind of reset - we’ve all had our say, let’s move on.”

When approached for comment on the government's decision, Alban Cassidy - a director of Cassidy + Ashton - referred the Lancashire Post to comments supplied to the Place North West website.

He said: “We have always argued that the overwhelming need for a mosque in Broughton and North Preston - due to the growing Muslim population and the outstanding quality of the architecture - justified planning permission being granted.

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“It is so pleasing that first Preston City Council, then the planning inspector, and now the secretary of state, have agreed with us.

“This will be a wonderful landmark for the city to be enjoyed by the whole community for many years to come,” Mr Cassidy added.

The identity of the party or parties behind the mosque proposal has not been made public and is not contained within the planning application documents, but the Post did attempt to contact a group called the Friends of Broughton Mosque in advance of the government announcement. That group last year condemned a website set up in opposition to the mosque which mimicked the design of the official site promoting the project - and even appeared to mock the process being undertaken to secure permission.

David Borrow, Preston City Council's cabinet member for planning and regulation - who also sits on the authority’s planning committee - said at the meeting where he and a majority of his colleagues approved the mosque 12 months ago that he wanted 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]”.

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Commenting on the government’s upholding of the city authority’s decision, Cllr Borrow told the Post that the town hall was “pleased” by it.

“This is consistent with the decision of the council’s planning committee. We were surprised that this application was called-in by the secretary of state in the first place - with the unnecessary cost to the council tax-payer - but at least the outcome was the right one.”