Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Camberley mosque plan rejected by council

Residents queuing
Residents queued for hours outside Camberley Theatre

Controversial plans to build a mosque in Camberley have been thrown out by councillors at a heated meeting.

The local Bengali Association's bid to knock down a listed building and build a domed mosque was rejected by Surrey Heath Borough Council.

Local historians and residents had argued the town's heritage must be protected and opposed the plans.

Abdul Mojid, who chairs the association, said they would consider whether to appeal against the decision.

More than 350 people packed into Camberley Theatre in Knoll Road, with some residents queuing from 0900 GMT for a ticket.

The plan involved knocking down the listed Victorian school building in London Road, which is about half a mile from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

It was originally home to Yorktown Infants and Primary schools, before later becoming St Gregory's Roman Catholic school.

When the school closed, the building was sold to the Berkshire, Hampshire & Surrey Bengali Welfare Association (BWA) which has been using it as an Islamic centre since 1996.

The association argued that the building no longer met the needs of the growing local Muslim community, and people wanted to worship in a mosque and not in a school.

The plans had been approved by the council's planning committee earlier this year, but overturned on a technicality.

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

Nahrni Choudhury, who spoke at the meeting on behalf of the BWA, accused some of the campaigners of racism.

Speaking after the meeting, she said: "I am upset. It's not just about what the buildings will be.

"It's about the fact that we are Muslims and we are an ethnic minority and they don't want to see a mosque here."

Conservative council leader Moira Gibson admitted there were "a few racist elements" but said said she did not think the campaign was fuelled by Islamophobia.

She said: "Genuinely, people did feel strongly about the conservation area.

"It's about being progressive but actually preserving part of the history of Surrey Heath and Camberley."

Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party MEP for the South East, said it was "the right result for the people of Camberley".

"This was never about religion, but about the fair and just process that applies to everyone no matter what faith or belief," he said.

Sally Garland, a member of the Save Our School campaign, said residents wanted to work alongside the BWA to help them use the existing building.

Listed building

The local Bengali Association wanted to knock down a listed building and build a domed mosque

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Get Surrey The plans for a traditional domed mosque in Camberley were refused - 15 hrs ago
Horncastle News Council rejects application to build mosque - 16 hrs ago
Builder & Engineer Camberley mosque plan rejected - 17 hrs ago
96.4 Eagle Radio Camberley mosque proposals rejected - 23 hrs ago
Telegraph Application to build mosque and demolish former school rejected in final council vote - 26 hrs ago

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