A decision on whether planning permission will be approved for a new mosque in Windsor is due in the next few weeks.
The area’s small Muslim community, which comprises around 100 families, currently has no dedicated place of worship and holds events like jumu’ah prayers in rented community halls.
However, the outcome of the planning application is far from certain as there has been opposition from local residents who say a mosque is out-of-keeping with the residential nature of the area and that it would lead to an increase in traffic.
The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead was due to make a decision imminently, but the coronavirus crisis has led to delays in council business and it now seems likely that a final decision will not be made until the end of this month earliest.
Fresh plans for the mosque were submitted in December for an Islamic Community Centre in Dedworth, West Windsor, months after initial plans were refused by the Royal Borough.
Windsor Muslim Association submitted proposals to transform a three bedroom, two-storey detached house near the River Thames into a place of worship and community centre.
WMA says it aims to “provide religious, social, economic, educational and welfare services to everyone,” and to “provide a comprehensive programme for the community to create model Muslim citizens who understand their Islamic duties and obligations to create a constructive dialogue with the wider communities.”
The previous application, submitted in April last year, was refused after concerns were raised about an increase in people and vehicle movements and the removal of trees to accommodate 26 new parking spaces.
The new application does not feature any additional parking spaces but rather includes bike racks aimed at encouraging visitors to cycle to the centre instead of travelling by car.
The plans state: “This proposal is not primarily about increasing the number of people who practise their religion but providing a more convenient location, closer to where existing members live and work.”
However, despite these reassurances over 80 objections have been registered on the council website, most focussing on the potential damage to a greenbelt area and the increase in traffic. One complainant commented: “This is an area of natural beauty on the river front and a mosque will really not be in keeping with the Thames riverside.”
Reacting to the objections, Mohammed Ariff of Windsor Muslim Association submitted a petition with 108 signatures of local residents supporting the proposed mosque.
He said: “I’m astonished at the response to the application for planning permission… It is sad and disappointing, almost to a satirical level of comedy to read the raw, ill-informed, gut-level reactions sent in by many respondents.
“They range from not having read the plans properly, to blind knee-jerk reactions, to exaggerated fears, to paranoia, to not having an understanding of the religion and its activities, to unnecessary hyperbole.
“Apart from the quality of the comments, it is also regretful that the quantity of objections also has been exaggerated by all sorts of devious means to give a biased and untrue picture of the overall reaction.
“Some are considerate but fall into the same traps as the rest – of Nimbyism, a common theme that runs through almost all of them, others are thinly veiled prejudiced views… this location would be the best location in Windsor, discreetly tucked away, impacting least on the general population but at the same time close to its support base.”
5Pillars contacted Haydon Richardson, the planning officer responsible for approving or rejecting the decision, and is awaiting a reply. In recent public correspondence he said that the council was having to adjust the way it made decisions due to the current coronavirus crisis and therefore no decision was likely in the next few weeks because of this.