Calls to heal rift in row over Dudley mosque after controversial project granted green light
It is a controversial long-running project that has provoked heated debate and divided communities.
Now after a seven-year stand-off planning chiefs at Dudley Council have given Dudley Muslim Association the green light to develop land off Hall Street to build a large mosque just outside Dudley town centre.
And in the wake of the planning committee voting in favour of the scheme a call has been made to also re-build relationships in the area.
Dr Khurshid Ahmed, director at Dudley Muslim Association, which put forward the plans, said it was now time to heal wounds that had opened up in the town as a result of the mosque debate.
He said: "Sadly relationships within the town have been messed up and it is about time we all started to rebuild."
1997: Members of the Muslim community say they entered into an agreement with Dudley Council which needed land they owned in Porter Street to build Dudley Southern Bypass. They swapped their site for council-owned land in nearby Claughton Road.
2000: The Muslim community claimed they were approached by the council for a second land swap deal after council bosses wanted their Claughton Road site to boost plans for a redevelopment around the Cavendish Quarter.
2003: A second land swap deal was agreed with a covenant stating that building work should start within five years or the lease would come to an end. In November the Dudley Muslim Association (DMA)made an outline planning application to build a mosque and community centre in Hall Street.
2005: Outline planning permission was withdrawn by Dudley Muslim Association but sale of freehold agreed.
September 4, 2006: Dudley Muslim reveals it has scaled down the mosque scheme, shrinking the 200ft minaret to 65ft and reducing the size of the car park.
September 2006: Clams from the DMA that the council's then chief executive Andrew Sparke that the council would set a later target date for the planning issues to be resolved.
January 19, 2007: DMA submits plans to Dudley Council.
February 27, 2007: Members of the councils development control committee reject the mosque scheme against the advice of officers.
July 13, 2007: DMA confirms it is appealing against Dudley Councils decision to reject the mosque.
July 17, 2008: Planning inspector reverses Dudley Councils decision, granting outline planning permission for the mosque.
January 1, 2009: Deadline for mosque to be substantially built passes, meaning Dudley Council can buy back the land.
July 16 and 17, 2009: The High Court overturns an appeal against the planning inspectors decision by Dudley Council but states that a full planning application must be submitted by July 2011.
September 9, 2010: The cost of buying back the land is revealed as £250,000 by Dudley Council chief executive John Polychronakis.
December 31, 2010: Dudley Council lodges papers with the High Court in a bid to buy back the land.
July 14, 2011: DMA submits a full reserved matters planning application for the mosque just days before the time limit set by the planning inspectorate in 2009 was due to end. They also apply for an extension of the outline planning permission awarded in 2009.
September 19, 2011: Dudley Councils planning committee refuse the reserve matters application but do grant an extension to the outline planning permission for three years.
November 2011: Parts of the DMA defence against the councils bid to buy back the land was thrown out by the High Court.
January 2012: DMA submits new papers to the High Court to argue its case.
April 2012: High Court judge orders DMA to give vacant possession of the Hall Street site back to the council after concluding it had no real prospect of successfully defending the local authoritys claim.
July 2012: DMA granted appeal against the High Courts decision to throw out plans for a new mosque. Date set for June 2013 but this did not materialise.
February 2014: High Court Deputy Judge David Halpern QC upholds the earlier ruling.
March 2014: DMA launch an appeal against Deputy Judge David Halpern QCs ruling.
May 2014: DMA granted appeal at the Court of Appeal.
September 2014 - DMA submit new, revised plans for the mosque, in Hall Street. Instead of a standalone dome, the building will have a curved roof and the minaret will stand at 61ft instead of the original 109ft proposal.
November 10, 2014 - Dudley Council's development control committee voted five to three in favour of approving the planning application for the mosque.
Early 2015 - Appeal hearing due to be heard.
The development will see a 52ft-high mosque with a 62ft minaret and also includes a 120-space two-storey car park, a sports centre, an enterprise and education centre and a community centre.
The Dudley Muslim Association says the project will be a boost for the whole town with non-Muslims able to benefit from the new education and sports facilities.
But the decision to give the proposal the go ahead has resulted in an angry response from large sections of the community, with concerns raised over the lack of parking at the site, increased traffic congestion and the proposed design of the buildings.
One of those who objected was Archie Pugh, aged 80, from Dudley. He said the design of the mosque would not fit in with the town's architecture and the increased traffic would cause gridlock on roads around the site.
"The application did not comply with guidelines that stipulate the need for a locally sensitive design," he said. "In my view the whole thing looks grotesque. They are saying up to 600 people could attend the mosque at any one time which to me means the resulting traffic congestion will be catastrophic. It is absolutely disgraceful that it has passed."
Councillor Keiran Casey, vice-chair of Dudley Council's Development Control Committee, opposed the plans. He said: "This has been very badly handled from the start. The vast majority of people have no problem with any community having a place of worship. My issue is that the site has the potential to set up the town. It is crying out for redevelopment that could support people in terms of industry and employment."
Others have questioned whether the facilities at the centre will be available to use for all members of the community.
Dozens of furious protesters were locked out of Monday night's meeting as all spaces in the public gallery were filled by late afternoon. Darren Ward, aged 43, from Tividale, was one of the many who were left out in the cold and rain.
He said: "I got here at 5pm and couldn't even get inside to hear the decision. This is a bad decision for the town."
Many Muslim's say the town has been 'crying out' for a new place of worship to replace the cramped Dudley Central Mosque in Castle Hill.
Shakeel Ahmed, aged 40, from Kates Hill, said: "The town's Muslim community has grown a lot in the last 20 years and the mosque in Castle Hill is nowhere near big enough.
"People have a right to a place of worship."
Proposals for a new mosque in the town were first put forward in 2007. On that occasion the bid was thrown out because the authority wanted to preserve the land for development that could boost employment.
But an updated version of the scheme returned to the table in September. A total of 370 letters of support and a petition for the application with 1,718 signatures were sent to the council, while 885 letters were sent in opposing the project.
Councillor Qadar Zada, chairman of the development control committee, said he was satisfied the facilities would benefit the whole community.
However the plans for the land which used to be the site of the Nuttall manufacturing factory and warehouse, could still be halted by a High Court hearing early next year over whether the land should revert to council ownership.
A judge previously ruled the council could reclaim the land, but the association has lodged an appeal over the decision.
Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley Council's opposition Conservative group, said the authority was wrong to give Dudley Muslim Association planning permission to build on land 'they technically do not own'.
He said: "Whatever the rights and wrongs over the mosque issue it seems bizarre the council hadn't argued for the legal action to be concluded prior to this coming before planning.
"This is a clear case of the elected members of the ruling group not being in control and allowing officers to do as they please. The council could be left with a huge legal bill to foot because of this.
"It would have been far better to conclude the legal action of who owns the land and then hear the new proposals at planning."