IT MUST be petition season in Blackpool at the moment, with over three thousand signatures handed in to the council in protest at the closure of a tram crossing in Anchorsholme and now another three thousand going in from Waterloo ward residents in protest at what they refer to as an ‘illegal’ mosque operating on their doorstep.
The mosque is located on Waterloo Road in a former computer shop and neighbouring takeaway surrounded by further tatty shops and has been referred to on an external banner as a ‘multi-cultural centre’. I’m far from familiar with the religious differences in the various Muslim sects but apparently this mosque houses practising Sunni muslims.
I don’t have anything against mosques or religion (aside from thinking the latter to be pointless), however there is a little more to this issue than meets the eye, hence the strong local protest in relation to this mosque.
It appears that there is no current approval to use this premises as a mosque, but the owners have submitted an application for change of use to a meeting place for the local community. This does mean that at this moment the use as a mosque is not allowed, but it continues to operate without any problems.
According to the Gasjet the mosque is set to grow to five times the capacity as the owner has consumed four additional shops in this row and wants to knock them all through. Apparently plans are being drawn up by architects as I write this.
On their Wikipedia page, it confirms this and states that there is already capacity for 400 people in their two operational premises with three further premises in the process of development. This would, assuming equal size, create a 1,000 capacity Islamic hub.
This has provoked fears of an Islamic influx into what is a very white, traditional community, and whether people like to talk about it or not, many people do fear Islam based on the constant reports of terror plots and suicide bombings from the media.
Never mind that though, with 1,000 capacity it suggests that the biggest problem will be that of car parking. Indeed, some residents have complained that there is a current issue with respect to this, and given the expansion of the mosque this will only exacerbate.
The mosque has been picked up on the radar of the English Defence League, with one spokesman throwing their support behind the residents;
“If you went out and spoke to the local residents you would find out they are up in arms against the mosque. It’s only a select few individuals supporting it.
“We are a democratic country and everyone has the right to support any cause they want to.
“I have no ill feelings towards them or those who have the mosque, what I have ill feelings towards is the idea to build a super mosque in Blackpool, which people don’t want.”
Only a select few individuals are supporting it? Who might they be?
The mosque is owned by none other than Tussaraf Shah. You may also know her as Natasha Shah, and possibly other names.
Shah is one of the Blackburn Babes and has been heavily involved in the local Labour Party for 8 years, having initially helped current leader Simon Blackburn and running mate Mary Smith get elected in Bloomfield in 2003. More recently, she stood in this year’s local elections for Labour as a candidate in Waterloo, but unlike her running mate David O’Hara, she lost.
She can clearly count many, if not all Labour councillors including the leader as good friends though.
As I mentioned, Shah and her group have taken ownership of 5 retail properties in this area with a view to creating what the EDL refer to as a “super mosque”. Obtaining this large-scale change of use to non-retail seems to me to be a huge gamble, given that this is a retail area populated by individual retail establishments.
A similar, if not bigger gamble is obtaining permission to knock them all through.
But wait. Her former running mate, Cllr David O’Hara, is seated on the council’s Planning Committee alongside 6 other Labour councillors. Could he or his planning/party political colleagues have tipped her the wink that they’ll pass her application?
Naturally, the integrity of the Planning Committee would be called into question if any of the Labour councillors with a personal interest were allowed to be involved in any decision over this mosque project. Regardless of what name Tusarraf Shah is using on the forms, it has been well publicised who is behind this mosque, with the Gasjet referring to her as the ‘owner’. Labour councillors all know her as a political activist and would not want to lose her support.
On the subject of planning, it has been put to me that in Blackpool it is usually fine for businesses and homeowners to modify their property in any way they see fit, and if this is raised with the council, they can just apply for retrospective planning permission and they will get it. Even if they fail to secure it, it doesn’t actually matter because there is no enforcement, just a volume of paperwork that you can readily ignore until you decide to submit another application.
It has already been alleged that the current arrangement of councillors on the Planning Committee, chaired by the esoteric Cllr Owen, will “approve anything put in front of them”.
Turassaf Shah didn’t do that well in the local elections, and another school of thought is that the Labour Party itself could be driving this project as a means of building a community of Labour voters in preparation for the next election. They are up to similar mischief with schools, as long-standing school governors are being replaced by Labour Party apparatchiks.
Those without an ephemeral memory might well be thinking, “hang on a second, didn’t Peter Callow’s Conservatives allow a tram depot to be built at Starr Gate without any planning permission?” Yes, they did. They also allowed Carnesky’s Ghost Train to set up on the Promenade without planning permission until United Utilities kicked off about it blocking access to drains.
They also approved planning permission for Kensington Developments to build on Marton Moss despite a fairly intense local backlash over allegations his party had accepted money from Kensington in exchange for it.
But these issues have been condemned as part of the package of failures that contributed to Callow’s demise: he never listened to the residents and just did whatever he wanted. Simon Blackburn promised that if elected his party would be the Residents’ Party and would listen to local people.
I mentioned at the start that two significant petitions had been submitted already; one for Lauderdale Avenue’s tram crossing, and one for this mosque.
Simon Blackburn should have rejected the tram crossing closure idea on the basis that local people don’t want it, that every stakeholder has gone on the record to reject closure for myriad reasons, and that the case for closure would only stand up in a kangaroo court. But he didn’t.
However, petitions can be a powerful tool: because there are more than 1,500 signatures in the petition, this forces the council to stage a 20-minute debate about it.
The campaigners against this mosque can, and should do the same with their petition. They should submit it to democratic services and force this issue with the council.
I’m surprised the local Conservative councillor, Cllr Lee, is not all over this; perhaps he is on ‘holiday’.