Mosque denied permission to extend opening hours for third time

IECC Eid celebration

Council leader Damian White at the mosque's Eid celebration in 2019 - Credit: Ghulam Fareed

An application to extend the opening hours of a Romford mosque has been refused for the third time.

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

Cllr Ray Best (Havering Park, Con), who requested the application be discussed at committee, told members he felt the hours “excessive” and parking spaces an issue.

He said: “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."

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He alleged the applicant has "never abided by the existing opening times" and claimed 60 objectors “all live within 500 yards of the site”.

The IECC deny this, with its planning consultant Mark Pender saying it is committed to operating in a "neighbourly and respectful way".

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 7am to 9pm on weekdays and 8am to 5.30pm on weekends, and was appealed to the Planning Inspectorate on refusal.

Cllr David Durant (Rainham and Wennington, Independent Residents' Group) 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.”

Cllr Matt Sutton (Emerson Park, Con) added: “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.”

The IECC has promised to set up parking marshalls and distribute flyers to attendees.

Assistant director of planning at Havering council, 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, Mr 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.

Cllr John Tyler (Cranham, Upminster and Cranham Residents Group), abstained and Cllr Paul McGeary (Gooshays, Lab) voted for the application.