The treatment of the Markaz is one of the greatest stains on the reputation of Barnet
I am really pleased to be writing for Barnet Post, which I hope will have tremendous success in reporting what is going on in Barnet. It is sad I must focus this column on the saga of the former BBC Orchestra building, the Hippodrome in Golders Green.
Barnet Council granted planning permission for a change of use of the Hippodrome from a theatre to a church in 2007. At the time the planning per-mission was nodded through without fuss. The numbers worshipping at the church were not capped and the church was simply asked to submit a light touch travel plan. When the Markaz bought the building, they understandably assumed the land had permission for use as a place of worship. The only difference between themselves and the previous evangelical church was the religion of the occupiers.
Since their relocation to the site in 2017, the Markaz has been required by Barnet to submit information relating to transport and parking needs, and on public performances in the former auditorium. Barnet issued a planning enforcement notice which has since been deemed defective by the Planning Inspectorate.
The Markaz also needed simple planning permission, to change the class of use from “church” to “place of worship”. This is routine and should really have been a delegated decision by officers.
After years of wrangling to get a planning hearing on this small change, Barnet’s Strategic Planning meeting on July 19th turned into a farce. All but one Conservative councillor on the committee voted to defer the application, in order to request information they already have.
When I was elected to Barnet Council in 2018, I had emails about parking concerns and the vast majority of people objecting to the site were concerned about an increase in traffic and cars on their roads. I also had some residents and faith groups tell me how much they wanted to work with the Markaz.
Disappointingly, Barnet’s Conservatives had latched onto this local division and used it as an election issue. They stoked the fears of the local community and put a Conservative Party leaflet through doors titled “ISLAMIC CENTRE OPPOSITION” in large, bold letters. There can be little doubt that the years of delay reflect Conservative opposition to an Islamic Centre opening in this location in Golders Green.
The latest delay has the effect of undermining the Markaz. This would simply not happen with any other religious group. I am happy that Barnet Labour’s leader Cllr Barry Rawlings is referring the matter to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to explore whether the Markaz has been the subject of racial or religious discrimination in the way their application has been handled.
If the Markaz choose to walk away because of the cost of the delays and their appalling treatment by the Council, no one could blame them. The Hippodrome would remain as a 3,000 capacity Grade II listed building with a host of potential uses, along with the possibility of being
empty. This whole affair will count as one of the greatest stains on the reputation of Barnet. Given the huge outpouring of support from the local community, including synagogues, churches, students’ unions and residents, it is such a tragedy that the Markaz do not feel welcome in our community. Given Barnet’s full Council meeting passed a Labour-sponsored motion to support Black Lives Matter, and recently upgraded their Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Policies, it would seem their anti-racism activism is merely skin-deep and has fallen at the first hurdle. What a disgrace they are.
Labour Councillor Anne Clarke represents Childs Hill and is the London Assembly member for Barnet & Camden
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