Plans for Islamic community centre between Horsham and Crawley could be turned down again

Stafford House, Bonnetts Lane Pic Steve Robards SR1802137 SUS-180115-165138001
Stafford House, Bonnetts Lane Pic Steve Robards SR1802137 SUS-180115-165138001

Fresh plans to convert a house between Horsham and Crawley into an Islamic community centre could be turned down next week.

A Shia Muslim charity group known as Millat-E-Jaffariya, which has been active in the Crawley area for more than 20 years, is seeking planning approval from Horsham District Council to change the use of a property - Stafford House in Bonnetts Lane, Ifield.

The application is for a change of use to a mixed-use residential unit, religious meeting hall and place of worship.

Some of the existing structures would be demolished and replaced with a part single storey, part two storey rear extension, while a two-storey meeting hall would also be built along with a glazed link.

As a similar application was refused by HDC in January, the applicant has come back with revised plans.

These are due to be discussed by HDC’s planning committee next week (Tuesday November 6), with officers recommending refusal.

The first floor of the property would be used as an Iman’s flat, with a bedroom kitchen/diner, lounge and bathroom.

An extension includes ladies bathrooms and a storage room.

At ground floor the extension would provide a communal kitchen, disabled toilets and a preparation room where bodies would be ceremonially washed and prepared prior to burial away from the site.

The ground floor of the existing property will be reconfigured to provide an area where children will be taught religious teachings.

Along with a two storey extension to the main building, a new detached structure will be constructed within the grounds, linked by a single storey extension to the new two storey extension.

Main prayers will be held on the ground floor of this detached structure, with male toilets and a meeting room within the roofspace. This area would also be used to teach children.

The existing access to the north would be widened, with geotextile sheeting laid to the south-east of the site to provide a parking area for up to 80 cars.

Recently a marquee has been erected in the grounds of the property to accommodate prayer meetings.

Meanwhile the ground floor of the building is being used to provide two prayer and meeting rooms for the local Shia Muslim community.

The four rooms at first-floor level are being used as bedrooms for friends and family of the members of the community.

A total of 130 letters of objection were received from 120 separate households compared to 166 letters of support from 106 households.

Supporters argue that the application would provide much needed community facilities ideally located close to the community.

A design and access statement submitted with the application says: “The applicants have every wish to blend in and integrate harmoniously with the local area and community and ensure no harm arises from their religious use of the premises. It is hoped the application will be accepted without undue controls over activity levels and number of events etc as envisaged by the conditions and agreement term referred to above in connection with the previous application.

“In this respect, the hours and days of use of churches elsewhere in the country appear seldom controlled on the basis the premises are used with respect for the local community, which will be the case here.”

But objectors have raised concerns about plans being out of keeping with the area, the size of the site, road safety, parking, noise disturbance and the impact on infrastructure.

According to an officers’ report: “Such an intensive use of the premises, facilitated in part by the size of the resulting building, is considered to cumulatively lead to a significant increase in the overall level of activity in the countryside.

“As such, it is considered that the proposed change of use and associated development would be contrary to the relevant policies within the HDPF. This level of harm is considered to outweigh any community benefit which would be derived from the scheme.”

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