New Islamic centre in King’s Lynn given green light

Plans to transform a King's Lynn pub into a new Islamic centre were given the go-ahead by councillors today.

The West Norfolk Islamic Association (WNIA) applied to West Norfolk council for change of use planning permission to convert the former Queen's Arms pub in London Road.

Members currently use a number of smaller venues across the area for prayers and meetings but the association will now be able to create a single dedicated centre, next to the Conservative Club.

The approval by a slim majority came after a lengthy debate about traffic congestion, the loss of another pub in King's Lynn and the lack of car parking spaces.

Speaking after the meeting, Azam Gabbair, WNIA chairman, said: 'I am very happy, not only for the West Norfolk Islamic Association but also for the wider community. This will hopefully help to build bridges.'

Marie Connell, from West Norfolk Voluntary and Community Action, was also at today's meeting.

She said: 'People need to learn about the differences that exist between all the different people that work and live in King's Lynn and west Norfolk.

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'Once people know and understand those differences I think it's a lot easier for them to accept them and rub along together happily.'

West Norfolk Council had received 140 letters of objection signed by 735 people, including a petition. The letters raised a number of concerns including fears the centre could impact on property prices, the conservation area, traffic congestion and parking.

Stephen Tweed, from the British Freedom Party, spoke against the plan at yesterday's meeting.

He told councillors: 'We have congestion on London Road already. You also can't get emergency vehicles through the entrance and exit to the site and I don't believe 19 cars will fit in that car park without compromising access for emergency vehicles.'

He also expressed concerns the community centre might become a mosque in the future.

Members of West Norfolk council's planning committee heard the centre will support an estimated 80 Muslim families who live in West Norfolk and will include Friday prayers, Ramadan and Eid evening prayers, children's studies, administrative meetings, guest speakers and other social gatherings.

Eid prayers currently attract about 70 people twice a year, while the weekly Friday prayers at lunchtime are usually attended by about 40 to 50 worshippers, the application said.

Councillor Michael Tilbury said: 'I have no concerns about it being an Islamic community centre or the loss of the pub but I do believe there are serious issues regarding traffic and parking around the site.'

Councillor Paul Foster added: 'The problem with the application is that I don't think the building will meet the aspirations of the applicant. The building and car park is not large enough.'

The approved plans also include 21 car parking spaces, including two disabled bays, and the car park to the rear has two access points.

Speaking after the application approval, Azam Gabbair, WNIA chairman said: 'I am very happy, not only for the West Norfolk Islamic Association but also for the wider community. This will hopefully help to build bridges.'

Marie Connell, from West Norfolk Voluntary and Community Action, who was at the meeting, added: 'People need to learn about the differences that exist between all the different people that work and live in King's Lynn and west Norfolk.

'Once people know and understand those differences I think it's a lot easier for them to accept them and rub along together happily.'

West Norfolk Council had received 140 letters of objection signed by 735 people, including a petition. The letters raised a number of concerns including fears the centre could impact on property prices, the conservation area, traffic congestion and parking.

Objectors also suggested the centre could become a target for vandalism or other crime.

But Norfolk police, the council's conservation team, environmental health officers and King's Lynn Civic Society did not object.

Once converted from a pub, the centre will only be allowed to open between 7am and 11.30pm Monday to Saturday, and from 8am to 10pm on Sundays, to protect neighbouring homes from disruption.

The planning officers' report also said the proposed activities are quiet and any call to prayer will be made inside the building without the use of speakers.

Visitors will also be encouraged to walk, cycle or catch a bus to the centre to ease traffic flow.

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