Developer answers Sunderland mosque protestors

The construction firm behind plans for a controversial mosque has defended its proposals after a backlash from neighbours.

As reported in the Echo, hundreds of protesters have filed official objections against plans to convert a disused vehicle depot in St Mark’s Road, Millfield, into a mosque. More than 600 letters of objection – and a petition bearing 1,462 signatures – have been sent to planners at Sunderland Council, urging councillors to refuse planning permission for the project. Protesters fear they will be plagued by traffic, parking and noise problems if the development goes ahead.

Now Anthony Watt of AM Watt Design, based in Alpine Way, Sunderland, has written to planners addressing some of the concerns. “There are 45 families within this mosque,” he said. “Giving a population of approximately 250 people. The majority live and work within walking distance of the site. Three or four may work outside the area. The main prayer day is Friday, and a maximum of 130 people might attend prayer.”

Proposals for the mosque include separate men and women entrances and prayer areas, a library and social services facilities, washing and toilet facilities and a body preparation area. The building – which would get a new frontage with two domed columns – would also include a community and education centre. There would be 20 parking spaces.

Sunderland Council has already agreed in principle to sell the former social services vehicle depot to the Pakistani Islamic community in Millfield, subject to planning permission. It is hoped the deal would end the long-running problem of the existing mosque nearby, which is operating without planning permission.

Mr Watt said his client had carried out surveys on Fridays, and about 16 cars are parked outside the present mosque in St Mark’s Road. He said the garage at the council depot served about 30 vehicles – ranging from vans to mobile library services – and operates from 7.30am to 5.30am. He added: “Council staff can leave up to 20 private cars parked here while they are out with council vehicles.”

Mr Watt also stressed the Islamic community did not propose installing an external sound system, allaying fears of the “call to prayer” emanating from the building while neighbours are sleeping.

Residents are concerned about prayer times in the early hours, but Mr Watt said these would have a very low attendance and not involve vehicle movements. “Prayer takes place at various times, in the summer a maximum of ten but normally two people can be at prayer from 4.30am, but they will walk to the proposed mosque.”

Concerns had also been raised about the body preparation area, including relating to noise if bodies were being delivered to the centre in the middle of the night. Mr Watt said: “The body wash facility is for the preparation of the body for burial/cremation. The body will be brought by funeral hearse to be washed and returned to the chapel of rest – no corpse will be stored on the premises.”

The planning application was submitted by Mazhar Mahmood on behalf of the Pakistani Islamic Centre. The council is yet to schedule a meeting to consider it. Planners will make a recommendation to councillors, who will then debate issues relating to the development before deciding whether or not to grant planning permission.

Sunderland Echo, 17 February 2012