Controversial plans to build Britain’s biggest mosque in east London have been put in jeopardy by a High Court injunction requiring cessation of the site’s use for religious worship. The London Borough of Newham successfully argued that the site had a history of repeated breaches of planning control and that the Islamic charitable trust that occupies it had failed to meet the terms of a binding planning agreement.
A dilapidated former chemicals factory close to West Ham railway station and in the shadow of the Olympic park had been used as a mosque by members of the Tablighi Jammat Islamic group since 1996. The council has refused planning permission for the trust to build a larger, permanent, mosque with capacity for 10,000 worshippers - four times that of St Paul's Cathedral - on the site.
Council lawyers said that the site had endured ‘a long process of unauthorised development’ and ‘repeated breaches of planning control’ over the years. The mosque breached local development plan policies and the council issued an enforcement notice in 2010 requiring the trust to cease unauthorised use of the site.
The trust in 2011 successfully appealed to a planning inspector against that notice and a two-year temporary permission was granted to allow time for the trust to bring forward an application for a policy-compliant development. The trust subsequently entered into a planning agreement with the council to bring forward a compliant planning application before February, 2012, or to abandon the site’s faith use.
However, a compliant application was not made until late 2012 and was refused by the council, despite claims by the trust that 28,000 people - 89 per cent of those who responded to the consultation - were in favour of keeping the site as a place of worship. It was argued by the trust that an injunction would cause ‘untold harm’ and ‘destroy a vibrant religious community’.
However, in granting the injunction, the court accepted the council’s arguments that the trust had entered into the planning agreement freely, had recognised its purpose and effect and had understood the consequences of breaching its obligations. The injunction required termination of the site’s use for religious worship, removal of all fixtures and buildings associated with that use, the digging up of a car park and removal of all resulting debris.
Argument in respect of the timetable for compliance with the injunction was left over for a subsequent hearing.