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"Offensive" objections to muslim centre plans

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"It’s a sad representation of Newbury"

THE fact that dozens of objections to a new centre for West Berkshire’s muslim community were so offensive they were unable to be published, is a “sad representation of Newbury”.

That was the view of Newbury town councillor Elizabeth O’Keeffe (Lib Dem, Victoria), who was speaking at a planning and highways committee meeting last Monday.

Earlier this month West Berkshire Council rejected plans for the new community centre in Pound Street, owing to a lack of parking spaces and extra traffic.

The application – to turn the empty offices into a new centre for religious instruction, worship, education, training and indoor leisure – garnered 271 letters of representation, with most raising objection.

And, according to the planning officer’s report, there were 88 letters with personal details withheld or that were considered “not suitable for publication”.

Discussing the matter at the recent town council meeting, Ms O’Keeffe said: “This isn’t really to do with West Berkshire’s planning decision, but it’s a sad representation of Newbury that there were so many objections that were anonymous.”

Chairman Anthony Pick (Con, St John’s) pointed out: “The ones that were anonymous were not anonymous. They were rejected for bad language – they were so offensive they could not be included.

Ms O’Keeffe replied: “Yes, well as a resident I consider that just absolutely awful.”

The Bangladesh Welfare Centre had wanted to move from its current home in Pound Lane to the redundant office building in Pound Court.

However, despite being just yards away from the mosque, West Berkshire Council highways officers objected to the proposed move on safety grounds.

The site has just nine car parking spaces, while up to 110 worshippers could be expected to attend Friday prayers.

Some questioned why a site so close to an existing mosque could be deemed unsuitable.

But speaking at the meeting on Monday, Newbury Town Council leader Adrian Edwards (Con, Falkland) argued that the Bangladesh Welfare Centre should not have been allowed use of the current building as a place of worship either.

He said: “There was no planning application.

“They didn’t even have change of use and it really was a most unsuitable venue because of lack of parking – anyone who lives on Pound Street knows that.

“It was a pity really that it was allowed in the first place because then they would have had to find a better site.”

Ms O’Keeffe said the town council should work with faith groups and other organisations in the future to help them identify suitable locations in the town.

“I think this is a good example of how the town council could liaise with these groups to help them find appropriate sites,” she said.

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