Of course it never went away. Misinformed headlines like the BBC’s “Plans collapse for the biggest mosque in England” (here) and the inevitable public silence following Tablighi Jamaat’s (TJ’s) successful appeal last year against Newham Council’s attempt to move them off the site (here), lulled many into a false sense of security.
But they’re back now, and they’ve taken their gloves off. Earlier this month they officially submitted their plans to inflict on the residents of West Ham a 9,350-capacity mosque which their architect trumpeted would be the size of Battersea Power Station (here).
You’ve got to admire their chutzpah – or their Saudi-backed arrogance depending on your point of view. Last February they publicised plans for the site that seemed roughly in line with Newham’s core planning strategy for the borough which requires a mixed-use development on this key location – it’s beside the busy West Ham interchange station. TJ said then that they intended to build separate residential, retail and business units in addition to the mosque. It would of course have been the UK’s first custom-built Sharia-controlled zone, but nonetheless it might have satisfied the mixed-use criteria of the Council.
But in reality they’ve always had the ambition for a mono-use mosque-only site, as this is to be an important global platform for the fundamentalist movement with its 80 million followers worldwide and a huge Islamic statement to the rest of us. So now they’ve done a U-turn, thrown caution to the wind, taken the gloves off and decided to go for broke. They’ve dropped February’s plans for the mixed-use ancillary units and replaced them by a 2,000 capacity dining hall for worshippers, an Islamic library, eight flats for Imams and overnight mosque visitors, children’s facilities – and, to pacify the planners, some sports fields ‘for the wider community’… Anyone for a game of mixed doubles?
So TJ is deliberately waving two fingers at Newham Council whose local planning strategy cramps their burgeoning global ambitions. And they’re not giving a toss either for the West Ham residents who would have to live with both the growing number of disciples of TJ’s socially-hostile ideology who will come to live locally and the architecturally deficient mega-mosque (someone astutely called it “the love-child of Stansted airport and a failed social housing development”).
TJ clearly expects – even intends – that their planning application will fall at the first hurdle of Newham Council’s planning committee. But with a ‘stuff you Newham!’ they doubtless expect to succeed when appealing over Newham’s head to the national Planning Inspectorate. And, with the Planning Inspector’s pusillanimous track record at the previous appeal and George Osborne’s current more liberal ‘boost the economy’ planning environment (here) and (here), who can blame them?
Fortunately, life – and a planning application – has its inevitable twists and turns and straight-line strategies rarely work. Besides, despite the best efforts of our self-serving political and professional elite, we still live in a democracy where the ordinary punter, in West Ham as elsewhere, hasn’t yet been fully shut out and shut up.
So there’s lots to play for and our MegaMosqueNoThanks campaign team of committed volunteers (here) doesn’t intend to be silent or inactive. TJ is large, well-funded and ambitious but so too was Goliath. And David, with a confidence outside himself, triumphed over Goliath with just a sling and a well-aimed stone.