Barnet’s council has been accused of breaking equality law in the way it handled an accommodation request from the Shia Muslim group based at Golders Green racetrack.

Lawyers representing the Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami (MTE) group, which has owned the racetrack since 2017, wrote to the council exposing allegations of religious discrimination.

MTE operates the site as a community center and place of worship. Its members initially came to London after fleeing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s and 1990s.

It is not a mosque and MTE believes that the use of the place as an Islamic community center should fall under the existing building permit, given in 2007, which states: “Use the building as a church to enrich the community with programs for children, the unemployed, the elderly, etc. . To organize concerts, conferences, theater and dance festivals. “

Following disputes with the town hall, he asked in July 2020 to change this to: “Use as a place of worship (use D1) and for auxiliary community uses, public conferences and representations”.

This came after Barnet took coercive action against MTE’s use of the site in 2019. A public inquiry into the planning was due to take place in 2020, but has been delayed due to the pandemic. The board informed MTE that a new request might be a faster way to resolve the issue.

Lawyers for MTE have now written to the board complaining that its delays in processing the request – it still has not set a date for the planning committee to determine – and the overall processing of the request violated the law.

In their letter, MTE’s lawyers write: “At every moment the council has obscured, delayed the process and made demands on the Markaz that it did not make to the previous owners, the El-Shaddai Church.

“It is inconceivable that such requests would have been made if the request had been made by a different faith community.”

Lawyers said MTE was treated differently because it was a “Muslim institution”, and said the town hall made “a number of unreasonable demands”.

A campaign for MTE’s right to use the site received support from community leaders of all faiths and none, and on May 27 a group gathered outside the racetrack to hold a banner which read: “Set a date.

Among those supporting MTE is the Bishop of Edmonton, the Reverend Rob Wickham, who said: “” Faith communities across Barnet provide much of the social glue that allows us all to prosper. This was so prevalent during the pandemic, where many believing communities escalated and retreated.

“The Markaz are such a community, whose service to the local community is well respected and well known. I am with them, alongside other Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders through Barnet, inspired by God who is love. Together , we are united, united in the service of the Barnet community.

Paying tribute to Barnet’s diverse community, MP Mike Freer added, “The Hippodrome has a rich history both as a concert and music venue before becoming a place of worship as a church. Markaz operated in the area for many years before acquiring the site. .

“They, like all faith-based organizations, are welcome. Attempts to use a planning app to divide our communities are reprehensible. “

An anonymous poster campaign used inflammatory language, including falsely describing the “mega-mosque” plans to arouse opposition to MTE’s use of the site.

During a public consultation as part of the planning process, up to March 31, 1,519 comments were made by members of the public on the plans.

Of these, 789 were objections and 739 were in favor.

Golders Green Racecourse was recently used as a pop-up vaccination site
– Credit: Jonathan Goldberg

MTE’s attorney, Ifath Nawaz, said the process “should have been straightforward,” adding: “There is no good reason why such a simple procedure took so long to resolve.

“I hope the Barnet Council will stop treating the Markaz in a different way from how it has treated other religious communities and set a date to make a decision in the next month.”

A spokesperson for Barnet’s board said: “We are proud of the strong religious communities that inhabit Barnet and all support in a culture of harmony and respect. The board has worked closely with the applicant throughout the process. planning.

“Planning requests are always assessed fairly and on their individual merits, and our planning team is currently reviewing this request before it goes to committee.”

The town hall said it was aware of the issues raised by MTE’s lawyers and would work with them to resolve them.

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