Barnet’s council could face legal action for “unlawful religious discrimination,” lawyers acting for an Islamic center in Golders Green have said.
Lawyers representing the Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami (the Markaz), a Shia Muslim community based at Golders Green Racecourse, wrote to the Conservative-led Council last week warning of a possible legal action over the processing a planning request to change the use of the building from a church to a “place of worship”. The letter, sent to the Barnet Council’s planning department, claimed his conduct violated the Equality Act 2010.
It was sent just days before the publication of a larger independent study on anti-Muslim discrimination in the Conservative Party, led by Professor Swaran Singh, which drew attention to the prevalence of Islamophobia. within the party at the local level.
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The release of the Singh report is likely to increase the scrutiny of Barnet’s Conservative-led Council over its inexplicable delays in resolving such a simple request.
“At every turn,” however, “the council has obscured, delayed the process and made demands on the Markaz that it did not address to the previous owners, the El-Shaddai Church,” the lawyers wrote. It is “inconceivable,” they argued, “that such requests would have been made if the request had been made by a different faith community.[…]. The Markaz has been treated differently because it is a Muslim institution and has unfortunately been the target of unprecedented levels of objection. “
A spokesperson for the Barnet Council said: “We are proud of the strong religious communities that inhabit Barnet and we all support in a culture of harmony and respect. The board worked closely with the applicant throughout the planning process. Planning requests are always assessed fairly and on their individual merits, and our planning team is currently reviewing this request before it goes to committee. It is not possible for us to comment in detail on a planning request on-line, but we are aware of the concerns raised by the requester. We are in the process of reviewing the issues they raised and will work with the candidate to resolve them. “
The council has been accused of making a number of unreasonable demands on the center – such as requiring it to fund expensive parking programs – that it failed to address to previous occupants. “The council’s actions appear to be a deliberate attempt to delay and ultimately ‘make the problem go away’ by discouraging enforcement,” his lawyers say. “There is no good reason why such a simple procedure should have taken so long to resolve.
The Markaz, a community made up largely of Iraqi Shia refugees who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime and which has been based in the London Borough of Barnet since the 1990s, bought the racetrack and moved there in 2017.
The building, which historically housed the BBC Concert Orchestra, had been used as a church since 2007.
In November 2019, however, the Council issued a formal notice alleging that the Markaz was in breach of the conditions of use of the building.
In response, the Markaz asked to change the use of the building, which should have been a straightforward procedure, as it did not involve any construction work or substantive operational change.
A spokesperson for local residents said: “This is a complex planning application that would see a significant increase in the use of the racetrack with up to 3,000 participants between 8:00 am and 11:30 pm, 365 days a year. year. As we have already seen, the impact on the local environment, especially traffic and parking, would be immense. Barnet’s planning officials have treated this request with delicacy and I am sure that they and the Barnet planning committee will continue to focus only on relevant planning issues rather than being swayed by threats from Markaz litigation ”.
The planning application has been supported in the past by some Jewish organizations.