‘Desire to pray could cause parking problems at proposed new Preston mosque’, inquiry told

The “imperative to pray” could lead to parking chaos in the vicinity of a proposed new mosque in a Preston village, a public inquiry has heard.

The claim was made during the second day of proceedings examining whether the Brick Veil Mosque should be allowed to be built on land alongside the Broughton roundabout, where the A6, M55 and M6 all meet.

Permission was granted for the place of worship by Preston City Council back in February, but the matter was later ‘called in’ for the government to have the final say.

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The Guild Wheel close to the site of the proposed new mosque on the cul-de-sac section of D'Urton Lane (image: Google)

As part of the approval given by the city authority, a condition was imposed meaning that the operators of the mosque would have to set up an online booking system to govern access to their 150-space car park – to be taken from D’Urton Lane – during Friday prayers.

The proposed building would have space for 248 prayer mats and associated worshippers. Seventy-seven of its car parking spaces would be set aside for those sharing a vehicle, according to papers presented to the city council’s planning committee when the application was assessed earlier this year.

The booking facility would rely on automatic number plate recognition technology and in-person marshals operating a barrier to ensure that only those who had reserved a space – on a first come first served basis – were permitted to park.

However, a transport planner appearing at the inquiry as a witness for Broughton Parish Council – which opposes the mosque plan – said he believed that the “turnaway policy” for people who arrive without having had a parking spot allocated to them was “one of the weaknesses” of a system that was designed to reduce traffic problems.

Under cross-examination on Wednesday, Ian Millership said that the biggest of his concerns was “what happens to [the] person that’s turned away”.

“What happens when the car park is full…where do those vehicles then go? Because [their occupants] have the imperative to pray [and] they’re likely to be close to the time that they need to pray.

“My experience from around the West Midlands and other mosques is they will park wherever they feel able to, irrespective of any traffic management, [because] their imperative is to get out of the car [and] get into the mosque to pray before the time passes – and they will park where they can.

“That’s when the problem will occur along D’Urton Lane…and could easily lead…to blockages.that would be significant for that period,” Mr. Millership said.

Christiaan Zwart, the barrister for the applicant, Cassidy + Ashton, challenged Mr. Millership to come up with a “creative” solution, as encouraged by national planning policy, which suggests attempts should be made to overcome problems that might otherwise block development.

Mr. Zwart himself suggested that the problem of a “chancer worshipper” – attending without a parking space – could be dealt with by “simply allow[ing] that person down the lane and through the car park, which is marshalled, and then to marshal them back out”.

The transport witness agreed that such an arrangement could be a way of dealing with the issue, but asked: “What will that person do once they leave?”

“They’ll leave,” Mr. Zwart replied.

However, Ian Millership said it was likely that they would instead just park on the cul-de-sac section of D’Urton Lane – even if that meant flouting double yellow line restrictions.

He told the inquiry that he had recently witnessed a turnaway operation in preparation for the Commonwealth Games and that it had created “traffic chaos” – which he predicted would be the outcome for D’Urton Lane.

He said that the risk of drivers breaking the rules was increased by the fact that there were no other parallel roads on which they could park instead – but he agreed that another possible solution was to ensure that Lancashire County Council carried out parking enforcement activity in the area.

Mr. Zwart said: “Where I come from in London, we have traffic wardens, car clamping, car lifting, all kinds of stuff – and people very soon learn not to park.”

The barrister also questioned the plausibility of a suggestion by Mr. Millership that a worshipper would abandon their vehicle in a way that made it impossible for fellow mosque attendees with a reserved space to access the car park.

“Peer pressure” would quickly encourage them to move on,” Mr. Zwart said.

The inquiry also heard that the Friends of the Guild Wheel group had suggested how they wanted to see any risk to cyclists and pedestrians mitigated along the stretch of the popular walking and biking route that runs past the entrance to the proposed mosque.

That amounted to a two-way segregated cycle lane and footway – for shared use – which would be raised from the road level and would give priority to pedestrians and cyclists at the point it crossed the entrance to the mosque car park and also that of a recent housing development.

The friends group wrote to the city council last year to advise them that their concerns relating to the mosque development had been “addressed” as a result.

Mr Zwart said that the inclusion of a raised “table” feature at the entrance to the mosque – as Mr. Millership had suggested could be used – would enhance safety yet further.

“If you’ve got slow-moving traffic, that can only improve safety, [because] everyone is aware of what’s going on even if they’re frustrated that they can’t get past quicker,” the barrister said.

However, Mr. Millership said that there was nevertheless a risk to cyclists crossing the car park entrance during the busiest period – even though the Friends of the Guild Wheel had requested that cyclists and pedestrians be given priority over motorised vehicles at that point – because drivers’ attention would be elsewhere as they navigated the exit.

He conceded that having two marshals either side of the entrance would mitigate that problem.

Mr Millership was criticised under questioning from a D’Urton Lane resident, Jameel Murtza, for not having visited the site in person – and the local said that he wanted to fill him in on “some of the detail you seem to be missing”.

He explained that the entrance to the mosque was “quite wide” and so would not pose the risk during vehicles turning that Mr. Millership had suggested in earlier evidence.

“There are three or four points where people can turn around already, so the point that you made…about [how] a vehicle stopping brings everything to a standstill – it’s not reality,” Mr. Murtza said.

He also took issue with the transport expert’s reference to what he had seen happen at mosques in the West Midlands, where the latter is based.

“That’s not what happens in Lancashire. I am a Muslim and I have been to a number of mosques in the area…that have had a very similar issue – and that’s not what happens.

“It would have really helped for you to have visited the site and maybe visited a couple of mosques and see[n] how they run up here,” Mr. Murtza added.

He also claimed that he had seen no more than ten cyclists travel along the Guild Wheel on D’Urton Lane in the three months he had lived there.

However, the advocate for Broughton Parish Council, Peter Black, said that there was evidence to show that “several hundred people a day” used the route during the week and “around 500 at weekends”.

The inquiry heard that neither the parish council nor the applicant had surveyed use of the stretch of the Guild Wheel in question.

The inquiry continues and is expected to conclude next Wednesday.