Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Surrey MP wants proposal for Camberley mosque withdrawn

St Gregory's Roman Catholic school building
The school building has been used as an Islamic Centre since 1996

Plans to demolish a listed Victorian building in Surrey and build a mosque in its place should be withdrawn, a local Conservative MP has said.

The local Bengali Association wants to knock down the St Gregory's Roman Catholic school building in Camberley.

But Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove said he hoped the mosque committee would respect widespread feeling about the need to preserve local built heritage.

A final planning decision has not yet been made by the borough council.

The site is located within the Royal Military Academy Conservation Area.

I'm sure they [the council] cannot do anything with this site. Who is going to maintain that building?
Abdul Wasay Chowdury, project

The school building, which dates back to the 1860s, was sold to the Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey Bengali Welfare Association, which has been using it as an Islamic Centre since 1996.

Under the plans, the existing building would be demolished and a purpose-built mosque with a domed roof and two minarets put up in its place.

Mr Gove said: "From all the voters I've spoken to - Muslim and non-Muslim - one of the things that they recognise is that this issue has heightened feelings.

He said the local Bengali Association wanted to continue to worship in facilities "which allow them to follow their faith".

"I know that in the past there have been discussions about how we can improve the current facilities and I think that would be the best way forward and I know that we can work together."

'Original glory'

But Abdul Wasay Chowdury, project manager for the mosque, said more people were in support of the plan than objectors, and the association would continue to fight for the application to be approved.

"I'm sure they [the council] cannot do anything with this site. Who is going to maintain that building?" he asked.

"We've totally refurbished one arm of the school... that one we are keeping and we've already brought it back to its original glory," he told the BBC.

Surrey Heath Borough Council has said a final planning decision would be made at a special meeting, with a vote taken by all 40 local councillors, on a date yet to be decided.

Matt Willey, Labour's parliamentary candidate for Surrey Heath, who is against the application, accused Mr Gove of inconsistency.

He said: "I would say he had flip-flopped on this issue because last week he was refusing to comment on the issue.

"I have always felt that I have not heard any arguments as to why the planning officers recommendations should be overturned."

Allan Hilliar, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, said: "I support the local Muslim community in their search for an appropriate site for a purpose built place of worship.

"Personally I have my doubts whether the London Road site is the right place, partly because of locally listed building status, but that decision will be made by the borough council."

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