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Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010
40 Surrey Heath councillors to vote on Camberley mosque
By Heather Driscoll-Woodford
BBC Surrey

Listed building
The building will be demolished to make way for a new purpose-built mosque

Surrey was the first county in Britain to have a purpose-built mosque.

But plans for a new one in Camberley have caused controversy in the town.

Muslims in Camberley want to demolish the former Victorian school building they have been using in order to build a purpose built mosque.

After a planning applications meeting at Knoll House in Camberley on 26 January, Surrey Heath Borough councillors appeared to give the plans their approval.

WHY CAMBERLEY NEEDS A MOSQUE
Camberley Mosque

The majority vote of councillors went against the advice of the council's own planning officers, who had recommended refusal.

The move was called unprecedented by campaigners who had wished to stop the plans going ahead.

However, a day later, the council seem to have taken a U-turn.

In a statement they said "although the committee were minded to approve the proposals, planning permission could not be granted on the evening, and the applications were deferred."

Director of Customer Services at Surrey Heath, Chas Bradfield said: "We are sorry for any confusion caused by the planning applications committee meeting yesterday which may have given the impression that planning permission has been granted."

"The application will need to go before the committee at its next meeting to allow completion of the process for people to have their say and comment at the applications meeting before a decision can be finalised."

Full Council to make decision

Anyone who lodged an objection has now been contacted by the council and invited to register a " request to speak" at a special planning meeting.

This meeting will be scheduled solely to decide on both planning applications.

The vote will now be taken by the Full Council, which means all 40 town councillors, rather than just the original 16 planning committee members, will make the final decision.

The full council planning meeting is set for 10 March at The Camberley Theatre at 7pm.

"Needless destruction"

The Victorian Society, who champion the need to keep Victorian and Edwardian buildings in England and Wales, told BBC Surrey "The owners say that the existing facilities do not meet the needs of the Islamic centre, but Victorian school buildings such as this are extremely robust and lend themselves well to adaptation."

St Gregory's School
"Surrey Heath Council has a duty to protect the town's built heritage"

"A more imaginative approach is needed for the site to prevent the needless destruction of an attractive part of Camberley's heritage."

"Surrey Heath Council has a duty to protect the town's built heritage, granting permission to demolish a building that is locally listed and inside a Conservation Area does not do this, in fact it goes against both local and national planning policy."

"We will be urging councillors to refuse permission for the scheme."

"The original school dates back to 1871 and was designed by the notable Victorian architect, Charles Buckeridge."

BBC Surrey's Nick Wallis finds out why the council went against their own advice, and talks to the people who fought for and against the plans.

YOUR VIEWS

Do you live in Camberley and is this decision important to you? Do you feel keeping Camberley's heritage is important? Should community needs come before conservation? Email me at surrey@bbc.co.uk with your thoughts.

I have not spoken to a single local person who wants this Mosque in this position. So insensitive to propose it between one of Camberley`s oldest Churches and Sandhurst, the Army Officer`s Training College.

The road system on Fridays is overwhelmed with cars pouring from the present school Mosque. The road reduces to one lane at that point. Camberley is surrounded by countryside. Surely, there could be a better choice of site.

Pam Mattinson

Yorktown School was a very friendly land mark for thousands of people, (including myself-who have passed by for the past 42 years) others who have lived in/or around the area, or themselves, gone to school there. Until such time it closed, and re-opened as a Islamic Centre. We do not want a MOSQUE built on this site. The prospect of this new proposal going through, to please Muslims, will become a Total Blot on the landscape!

As this is a Listed Building at present, what are the Council Planners thinking of by giving their permission - allowing the demolition of it, to go through.

Daily there are traffic problems on the A30., plus all these extra vehicles that will be turning into the centre, and out, up to 6 times a day, on to the main road, will create further traffic/pollution!

Surely there are other sites away from the main shopping area, that could accommodate this project. Will Camberley become deafened with loud speakers wailing out across the air space, when calling their clients to prayers! Just as it is in Bradford!PLEASE SURREY HEATH BOROUGH PLANNERS, DISCUSS THIS ISSUE ONCE AGAIN, AND SAY NO! NEVER!

Sandy Cox

I live in Sandhurst and I have done for 35 years, but in the area as a whole for 45. I remember Camberley back when I came to the area in 1964, it had lots of interesting buildings. If the lady who said in her email that the RMA gave the land to the town is correct and if she is, was it for a school? If so why is it giving it away to a completely different party? Could it not be renovated and used for the community as whole thereby keeping building rather than pull it down to built something modern?

As a member of English Heritage I am writing to-day to seek there help in stopping this destruction of a interesting landmark in Camberley. They are particular keen to preserve old schools. Wake up everyone and stop this destruction.

Sheila

There are plenty of objections being presented by local council tax payers and others so I do not intend repeating them.

What I am interested in is the history of the site. All of my children attended St Gregory's when it was the local Catholic Primary School.

Prior to this status, the school was a Church of England Primary School. My understanding is that the land on which this school was built was granted by RMA Sandhurst for the sole use as an educational establishment for local children. I have contacted the RMA Curator for further information.

In more recent times, I understand that the Catholic authorities applied to enlarge the school and attend to various improvements. Apparently, this application was refused. I cannot recall on what grounds.

Four of my grandchildren effectively attend the same school which was relocated to a heavily congested area alongside the Chobham Road. Travelling through this area at the start and end of the school day is a nightmare. It does seem very odd that an application for continuing use was refused but a totally different use a few years later runs the risk of being approved.

Traffic problems, already serious along the A30 in Yorktown, are dreadful on a Friday afternoon. These conditions can only become worse if the Mosque is built and attendance understandably increases.

Alan Fereday

We don't want a mosque, not a new one, an old one, a big one or a small one. This is a subject that comes up every time local residents meet and talk. How can this council possibly think they are making the right decision on behalf of these residents?

Nigel Astill

The tone of some emails is that this a ploy to overlook and attack the RMA or planes on their way to Heathrow presumably because all Muslims are terrorists!!!

The Mosque has been there for years and the only problems have been with vandalism to it. The building is crumbling - anyone who has an old house can testify to the constant costs.

The facilities are not adequate - remember the Catholic school that was there abandoned the building and moved to a new purpose built building in Frimley.

The building would have been lost years ago if it was not for the mosque - someone would probably have burnt it down like the Duke of York pub.

And by the way there will be no call to prayer just like there is not anywhere in the UK. As to whose paying for it - the muslim community is just like the church next door paid for repairs through fundraising. if you are so troubled by it - go and look around the building to see what the problem is.

Ali

I have been a resident in Camberley all my life and I am pretty happy that a Camberley mosque is being planned to be built.

Some people are saying that there is daily traffic and the cause of this is all the cars trying to go into the mosque. I'm sorry to say, but all this traffic began when a bus lane was made on the A30, not because people are trying to enter the car park of the mosque.

I understand that people are talking about extending the building rather than rebuilding but you must see inside for yourself to realize that much more work is need than just to extend it. Much of the building is wearing away and much work is needed.

I feel the mosque will give Camberley a nice look.

Mr Syed Jamil

I was surprised that Surrey Heath Council would allow demolition of the old school for replacement with anything. I was under the impression that the original plan was that a mosque would be build opposite on the site of the now derelict Robins Cinema site.

A mosque there would enhance the visual appearance of the A30, and would also have the advantage of the existing car park facility not requiring direct access onto the A30.

I would fully support a mosque development on the Robins Cinema site, but certainly not the demolition of the old school, which could be converted easily for other uses and not be demolished.

Tim Pellis

My wife and I have lived in Camberley all our lives, and as you say there is so much that has disappeared. It's outrageous that they propose to knock down Yorktown School and replace it with a mosque.

My father and his brother went to this school as did I in the 1950s. My wife's father and his brothers and sisters also went there. It is yet another part of our history that will be destroyed.

I use to live in the prefabs in Surrey Avenue and use to play in the fields now covered by office blocks and Sainsburys. My wife use to live in a house where the multi-story car park now is, and went to Camberley infants and junior school.

I know one should not stand in the way of progress but a mosque at the expense of part of our history is one step to far.

Ken and Maureen

I am horrified and angry at the situation. Legislation is urgently required to protect our British cultural heritage.

I was raised in Surrey. Having worked, trained and served around Farnborough, Aldershot and Weybridge in the forties I feel very strongly about this matter.

TCW

I am disgusted that they would even consider the removal of the old school, my mother and many local people feel that this is part of camberley's history.

Mr J.P.Weston

Muslims are part of Camberley and have been for a long time. The turn out on Fridays is enough to show how we take our current mosque seriously. It is only right that we should have a building that reflects that attendance.

It is only right that we should have a building that reflects our position in Camberley. Why should we have to make do? No other faith in Camberley has to.

Camberley is entering a new period in its history. I think Surrey Heath councillors are realising this. Muslims are part of Camberley's history. It is time we leave our mark on Camberley too for future generations.

What a symbol of co-existence, integration it will be, to have a mosque side by side with a church! I hope Camberley welcomes a purpose built mosque with open arms and hearts.

Camberley Muslim resident

You may not be aware that in 2002, the current owners of the site were granted planning permission to extend the buildings to accommodate the needs of the muslim community in Camberley and the surrounding areas.

Much of the building work has been completed, and when finished, the floorspace would actually be 2 sq metres larger than the alternative plans that have now been submitted.

The primary difference is that the old plans respected and protected the listed building and the integrity of the surrounding Conservation Area. The new plans do not conform to local, regional or national planning guidelines, and quite rightly, were recommended for refusal.

It seems to me, that Surrey Heath Borough Council went to great lengths to meet the needs of the muslim community when they granted planning consent in 2002 - showed flexibility and sensitivity to both sides of the argument - providing a large, purpose built mosque, whilst maintaining a much-loved, protected building that reflects the heritage of the area for future generations.

It is important to remember that the current owners were well aware of the constraints of the site when they bought it, and indeed, the limitations were reflected in the purchase price.

If The Bengali Welfare Association feel that the only solution to their needs is to build a new mosque, maybe the appropriate step would be to seek a different site that is not subject to special protection.

I have read the Planning Application Committee report, and it seems that this option has not been considered by the applicants.

I hope that those of us who are anxious to protect this building will write to or e-mail our councillors to urge them to act in accordance with the relevant planning policies. Fun though it is to debate among ourselves, we need to make sure our opinions are reflected by our community representatives when they vote on our behalf!

Alice

I grew up in Camberley, as did my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, and so I was devastated to hear of the plans and feel very strongly about this decision.

3 generations of my family attended St Gregory's (and York Town School as it was before), and although the building may well be crumbling, its memories are not.

There is a certain fondness for this old building whenever I return home and drive past and recollections of my childhood come flooding back. Indeed this was the place where I not only began my education but also where I decided at 5 years of age that I wanted to become a teacher - something that I am proud to say I accomplished.

English Heritage states that "Listing helps us acknowledge and understand our shared history. It marks and celebrates a building's special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the consideration of the planning system so that some thought will be taken about its future."

Camberley is barely recognisable now as the town in which I grew up; so many of its historic buildings have been lost to developers or simply left to rot. Demolishing this beautiful Victorian school building would be yet another travesty.

I wonder whether the decision would have been different had anyone else applied to demolish the old school and build on the site, whether that be another religious denomination or some commercial or business enterprise.

Perhaps the council is scared to turn down the application to build the mosque because it fears being deemed racist or 'anti-Islamic' (which is all too often the case in our country). It has nothing to do with race or religion; it is about preserving a little piece of history in an ever-changing modern world.

Maria Baker

Yorktown School was a very friendly land mark for thousands of people, (including myself-who have passed by for the past 42 years) others who have lived in/or around the area, or themselves, gone to school there. Until such time it closed, and re-opened as a Islamic Centre.

As this is a Listed Building at present, what are the Council Planners thinking of by giving their permission - allowing the demolition of it, to go through.

Daily there are traffic problems on the A30., plus all these extra vehicles that will be turning into the centre, and out, twice a day, on to the main road, will create further traffic/pollution!

Surely there are other sites away from the main shopping area, that could accommodate this project.

Sandy Cox

Yorktown School on the A30 is part of Camberley's heritage.

Nestling between St Michael's Church and Sandhurst Military Academy the splendid old building represents part of the history of this town.

I accept that it is in need of renovation but this could be performed sympathetically and in keeping rather than demolishing the building.

There are plenty of uses for the renovated school. The town desperately needs a community centre, some small office units to encourage local enterprise or a centre for the elderly given that the Ian Goodchild Centre is being redeployed.

By all means build a mosque on the site but like so many of the new flats and offices does it have to involve the demolition of an interesting historical building.

Could it not somehow incorporate what is already there. Imagination is what the planners need not destruction. These are but a few thoughts but each could retain the integrity of an old, much loved building.

The building holds special memories for me because I attended Yorktown School in the 1960s. Once it is destroyed it will be gone forever, depriving future generations of part of their history.

Rachel

I was shocked when I heard the news this week that the planning application to demolish St Gregory's Victorian Schoolhouse had been given 'the green light'. For whatever purpose it is wrong in light of such opposition .

Camberley has already lost old properties on the other side of the road over the past years, what are they thinking of.

I have no objection to a Mosque although I would be concerned at the proximity to the RMA. I don't think that the religious worship there has ever caused a problem as it stands, but there must be a more suitable site somewhere in Camberley that does not necessitate the demolition of a listed building' Not withstanding that this land effectively belongs to the RMA, so what do they think.

If the Secretary of State or the Dept of the Environment don't do something about this I will be very disappointed. I don't live in Camberley but I live nearby, if there was no opposition at the planning meeting perhaps it was because many people were not aware, I certainly wasn't.

I must admit that I raised an eyebrow some years back when the building ceased to be a Catholic School and later re-opened as a Muslim meeting house but like I said earlier I don't think there has ever been a problem. Anyway I would like to see the old schoolhouse kept for it's Victorian history

M A H - Sandhurst

The Camberley Society is not against a mosque. Our objection to the current planning applications is simply that they propose the demolition of a locally-listed building. Even though the building isn't important in national terms - and, to be honest, it isn't all that exciting architecturally - it's part of Camberley's past. We should be willing to set aside what is a trivial percentage of our building stock and land for future interest and education.
David Chesneau,
Chair, The Camberley Society

I no longer live in Camberley, buy grew up there and went to St Gregory's school as it was in those days. Whenever I return to Camberley to visit, the building remains a landmark that brings a smile to my face amidst a town that has changed in so many ways.

To me the old school building epitomises why buildings should be preserved; to provide solid anchors to our memories and experiences, to remind us all of where we came from and the communities we lived in.

I do not believe that the protest regarding the plans should be based on it becoming a mosque, becoming a supermarket or car park would be just as bad. The real protest should be that a character building that is held dear by many more people than just me is going to be removed from the urban landscape forever.

Russ, (St Gregory's Class of about 1981!)

Total disappointment!! Makes a complete mockery of our heritage & having listed buildings in the UK! What is the point of having planning officers if their decisions are disregarded/overturned? It will look so totally out of place amongst the other older & newer buildings along the A30 part of Camberley.
Julia

For the demolition of a listed building to build a mosque is one thing, even if the current old school building is unused, would permission be given for any other projects, but is quite profound given its status, prominence and proximity to Sandhurst RMA. Astounding but not surprising.

Dean

I would like to know what the Sandhurst Military Academy have to say about the fact this gargantuan building with minarets and towers will over look their grounds?

Mary

I am absolutly horrified, but not in the least bit surprised, that the council have given the go ahead for the wonderful victorian church in Camberley to be demolished for the building of a Mosque. This building is part of Camberley's heritage and am shocked that this decision has been made.

One of the reasons for the need of a new build is because it can sometimes be " cold " . Surely the installation of new heating would be cheaper than demolition and re build.

I work in a Victorian school and yes sometimes the heating can be temperamental, but the thought of it being demolished would horrify me. I feel that our country seems to be bowing to others before keeping our heritage going. Shame on all the people concerned with the decision!!!!!

Christine Borland

I think it's an outrage! I use to live in a grade 2 listed building, we had been fighting for years to get cable or Sky TV and faced refusal after refusal, but yet the council had no problem letting the police attach a 20 ft arial to the building a few years ago.

Also my Grandads house in Balham is in a conservation area and he's got a 120 ft eucalyptus tree in the back garden that the council won't let us cut down because of "conservation".

We should unite against this and other outrageous decisions and put a stop to it!

David Lucas.

To be honest I am at a loss for words as to the granting of planning permission for the demolition of a listed building on the A30, in order for a Mosque to be built.

The public opinion was obviously against this.

Major changes for minorities, decisions against majority view, the minority making more noise, and convincing those in power to do the wrong thing because of the lazy majority, this seems to be an ever increasing situation and sadly indicative of our British lifestyle.

Always a positive thing in life to accept all opinions, but not to bow to the normal insinuations that saying "no" means non acceptance to an entire race or religion, it simply means "no" because it is not wanted by the majority.

Camberley, and London Road in particular already has some gruesome architectural exhibits, which are not in context with the surrounding areas. Surely listed buildings are listed for a reason? How does a listed building become a condemmed building, does it have to go through the same process except in reverse?

I understand another meeting will need to be held, and permission re-applied for on the 8th February, as due to a technicality (which I can't imagine could be anything less than a comical reason a la Yes Minister) nobody was speaking against the planning permission.

In what is probably, one of the biggest issues in the local community at the moment, nobody was permitted to speak against the permission being granted.

Can I ask if the public were permitted in, or was someone convinced by those asking for planning permission that it would be a potential "public order" issue. How ever this situation arose, the outcome was positive for one side of the argument, and amazingly it was the side nobody expected to win.

Far be it for me to criticise, as I was not there, but how on earth did this situation happen, on such a delicate issue, and where the majority were not represented. Perhaps you could shed some light on this.

I want to say that, the general opinion was that this building was safe, as was the A30 from another horrendous building , traffic jams on what is already a busy road, and I dare not even mention the "call to prayer".

Simon.Rickman

Even though I believe that a mosque should be built, I do not believe that the beautiful Victorian school should be sacrificed.

We all should embrace our heritage and conservation is very important for the next generation. My family and I have only lived in the Camberley area for the past 2 years but I have been visiting family in the area for 17 years.

I decided to move to this area for a better life for my children, believing that the people and council of this area cared enough to listen to the people (after coming from London, I felt this was more so here).

I'm sure if the council looked hard enough a more suitable area could be found. I don't think it will be a bad thing, or an eye sore but a slice of history will be lost forever and in this changing world this is more important then ever.

I am very disappointed and sad to see such a handsome building gone for ever.

Mrs J Taylor, Frimley

This is appalling news. Where did the money for development come from? Why demolish a beautiful listed building, which is quite adequate for the needs of local muslims?

Surely the minarets of the new mosque will overlook RMA Sandhurst - have they been consulted? Is in not on the approach path to Heathrow?

How have the councillors been persuaded into changing their minds in the face of planning advice and local opposition and after initial refusal? What has changed their view?

I Hellberg





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