Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Mosque for Cambridge – More details and Public Meeting

Last night I met with Tim Winter, Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Cambridge University, and chair of the Muslim Academic Trust, the charity behind plans to move the Cambridge mosque to a new site on Mill Road, to get an update on their latest plans.

We talked a bit about reasons for wanting to build a new mosque, which are pretty clear. There is a large muslim community in Cambridge, and unlike some other parts of the UK, it is very diverse, reflecting the cosmopolitan makeup of the City, and the ability of the University to attract talent (and money) from all over the world. Oxford has 3 purpose built mosques, Cambridge has a mosque that has developed over time from residential properties, and is now full to bursting.

The latest situation is that the Muslim Academic Trust, using donations from a number of individuals, has purchased the site of the former John Lewis warehouse on Mill Road, but it yet to submit a planning application to the Council. This is not the whole of the currently vacant site – the larger part, the former Priory Motors part of the site is now owned by the Co-operative Group, and they recently submitted an application for residential development on the site – (search here for application reference 08/0663/FUL). Some planning issues will need to be resolved with this application before a mosque application can be progressed (such as the planners sensible requirement that there is only one shared access road to both parts of the site from Mill Road), but overall the Council’s planning brief for the site is for a mix of residential and community use (which would include use as a mosque), so in principle the proposals for the site sound like they could be acceptable.

For the part of the site owned by the Muslim Academic Trust, the plan is to build a mosque on the site (with adequate car parking), but this would not occupy the whole site – there may also be some local shops fronting Mill Road, some residential properties, open spaces and a café. As such, there will be access to site for all local residents – a real community facility. The design or layout of the site has not yet been decided, the plan is to hold an architectural design competition, with the intention of building a new mosque with high quality and design standards – the exact style will be determined by the entrants to the competition, but it has been made clear that there will ne no ‘call to prayer’ broadcast, and therefore no minaret.

The draft timetable (which like every planning timetable will doubtless slip…) is as follows:

Architects invited to enter the design competition – ASAP
A design brief to be prepared by August
Design competition winner to be selected around November
Planning application (probably only a single application for detailed permission) towards the end of the year. It is not clear yet if the decision will be made by the main planning committee or the East Area committee.
Building dates will depend on when (or if) permission is granted.

So what do I think of the plans? My main concerns with our planning system are around design quality and transport. I am encouraged by the proposal to use a design competition, and there does seem to be a commitment to high quality. If there is sufficient car and cycle parking on site, this should avoid problems in the local area, and the location is close to many in the City’s muslim community, which should avoid the need for too much car travel anyway.

Finally, I am keen to see this project used to build closer links between the muslim community and the wider community in Cambridge. Again the signs are encouraging – Romsey Action and EMRAG (East Mill Road Action Group) are facilitating a public meeting to be held next Tuesday (June 24th) at 7.30pm at Ross Street Community Centre to discuss the plans, and a representative from the Muslim Action Trust will be there to answer questions – all are welcome. There is a commitment to involve all of the Mill Road community throughout the process.

Overall, I think this project is really exciting - it will enhance this part of Mill Road, and deserves public support.

UPDATE: Finally managed to track down the link to the planners development brief for the whole site which is here.


Anonymous said...

Very ironic, Cambridge is full of the most tolerant and intelligent minds in the world and is a leading light in the world of science... yet it bends over backwards to allow the promotion of a medieval system of supernatural delusion openly espousing intolerance and misogyny. "it will enhance this part of Mill Road" Hmmmmmmmm.

Chris Howell said...

Hello anonymous,
I think the plans will enhance the build environment on Mill Road, and are being planned in a way that will promote good community relations between people of different faiths and none. Tolerance to me is allowing people the freedom of peaceful religious expression - hence I am happy to support plans for a new mosque in Mill Road. Chris

Anonymous said...

Firstly, well done on getting elected Chris.
But in terms of Tolerance, I truly feel that Islam has nothing to teach us in this area. In fact the Cambridge Muslim Online group (very much involved in the new mosque project) state as their aims...

2. Discourage Innovation
To protect the Islamic deen (religion, way of life) from all repugnant innovations.

Hardly progressive! Are you not concerned by the rapid changing peoples of this country with differing incompatible values that, often openly state, are merely waiting for the population tipping point to turn in their favour so that they can impose their values on society.

Chris Howell said...

Hello anonymous 10:10pm
I think all religions have the potential to be "intolerant" in that they each have a set of beliefs that are likely to be irreconcilable with the beliefs of other religions. That doesn't stop religions from being able to exist without imposing their values and rules on those who don't wish to be part of that religion - as the current very well attended mosque in Cambridge demonstrates. I abhor the way some regimes in the world do not allow freedom of peaceful religious expression even if I don't share the beliefs of those oppressed - in supporting the muslim community's desire for a new mosque, and I am just applying the same principal in this case.

alex said...

I am very glad the Muslims of Cambridge will be given a proper facility at last as they spill out on to Mawson Road during Friday prayer and at Ramadan.

Anonymous said...

I really think adequate parking is a key issue, as worshipers parking on nearby residential streets would cause difficulties. This also applies to the proposed flats.

The Brrokfields end of Mill Road is very congested, the number of new vehicles trying to access the mosque/shops/flats I suspect willc ause chaos. The five or six parking spaces on the Brooksfields end of Mill Road will ideally need to be removed to ease traffic flow.

Tom Bellis said...

If you have done any independant research on islam, you might be surprised to find that it actually promoted tolerance, anf yet even more than that, due respect. Furthermore, what distinguishes it from other religions is that there is no compulsion in religion. Also, Islam has many similarities with Judaism and Christianity, all that is needed is a little initiative and you will really see what Islam is about.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if the plans for the mosque have now been submitted? I cant seem to find them on the public access.
The visual for the main prayer space looks fantastic - I would be interested to see how this works on the site.

Anonymous said...

Any news on the mosque development? I can't seem to find the plans on the public access application search?

Romsey resident said...

Recently spoke to Council about mosque project and they confirmed no plans have been submitted yet, or for the possible affordable housing. They expect plans soon. Then there will be consulatation period for local residents. They could not confirm that the site has 2 owners - it would be good to have confirmation. My concerns are :
-how the road will cope with increased traffic and local roads with parking issues - very serious issue.
- if there is affordable housing - who will it be for ? There must be a LEGAL REQUIREMENT that a mixture of people could live here. In practice, I fear it may become a one religion zone. It is a large site and whoever develops it has a huge responsibility to the WHOLE community.
What I would like to see for this site is sheltered housing . For example, I notice the Seymour Street site opposite Brook House has closed - where have these vulnerable residents gone ?