"Too often today, people are ready to tell us,
'this is not possible; that is not possible'.
I say, whatever the true interest of our country calls for, is always possible!"

- Enoch Powell.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Council called 'political cowards' over Muslim Centre approval

From the Border Counties Advertizer here.

Published date: 19 February 2013 |
Published by: Emily Davies

SHROPSHIRE Council was accused of “political cowardice” by the British National Party last week, as the furore surrounding Oswestry’s first Muslim Centre continues.

Claiming the unitary authority was guilty of maladministration, Phil Reddall, a member of the far-right organisation, said councillors have a ‘moral case to answer’ following the handling of the application to change the use the former Presbyterian Church on Oswald Road.

He believes they should have made the decision after it received nearly 60 letters of complaint. Planning permission was granted by planning officers.

In a letter calling for an appeal decided by councillors, Mr Reddall said: “Given that the application received 103 public comments with the majority of these comments being objections, I firmly insist that the council should have made an electorally accountable decision. In fact, the council have acted with political cowardice and with no regard for public sentiment.”

Mr Reddall, BNP’s North Shropshire organiser, led a video and leaflet campaign against the application which was submitted by the Oswestry Muslim Society in November.

His letter said: “I believe that they have acted without due consideration to the views of the local electorate and as such the council have a moral case to answer.”

He called for future applications of a religious nature to be decided by councillors.

A spokesperson for the council said: “The decision was taken as required by the planning legislation having regard to the policies in the development plan, the National Planning Policy Framework and any other material planning considerations.

In accordance with the Council’s scheme of delegation this application was delegated to officers for consideration.”

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

BNP Demand Planning Decision is Taken By Councillors

A complaint as to why a planning application to convert a former church into a Muslim prayer centre did not go before a committee of councillors has been lodged by the British National Party's north Shropshire organiser.

Raising Awareness of Plans in December 2012

The Shropshire Star reports here that the decision was approved by council officers under delegated powers.

Below is the complaint emailed to Shropshire County Council.

Dear Sir / Madam

I would like to make a complaint as to how the planning application 12/04730/FUL (change of use from Furniture Store, previously Presbyterian Church, to Oswestry Muslim Centre) has been dealt with by Shropshire County Council.

I believe the Council have acted with maladministration regarding their decision to allow Planning Officers to deal with this case rather than deal with the application as a Council at a Public Meeting.

I understand that in passing this case to the Planning Department the Council have acted in accordance with their own regulations, however I believe that they have acted without due consideration to the views of the local electorate and as such the Council have a moral case to answer.

Based on pure aesthetics, the application 12/04730/FUL is relatively straightforward and the Council would have expected that it would be passed by Planning Officers.

However, this application will change the cultural landscape of Oswestry and the Council had a moral duty to make this decision in order to ensure they are fully accountable to the electorate.

...Your goal is not only to convince the councillors that you have a case in planning terms, but to demonstrate the support your case has in the local community. Planning officers are mainly interested in the planning arguments, but councillors will often give weight to wider views. Planning is not a science and councillors may judge the issues differently from officers.

Given that the application 12/04730/FUL received 103 Public comments with the majority of these comments being objections, I firmly insist that the Council should have made an electorally accountable decision. In fact, the Council have acted with political cowardice and with no regard for Public sentiment.

I believe the application12/04730/FUL is of major cultural significance to the local community and whether a local resident is strongly in favour or strongly objects to the application’s approval, it is now technically impossible for a local resident to vote for or against a councillor or councillors regarding their views on this application as the decision was passed to an unelected body.

My complaint raises a significant moral argument and it is imperative that elected councillors take full responsibility for major applications such as this.

I would like to make it clear that my complaint lies with the elected councillors who chose not to deal with this issue. The planning team are not to blame as they are bound by regulations while councillors must deal with Public sentiment. I believe the Council fully understands the wider implications regarding the approval of this application and their motive for not deciding upon the application as a Council is to render themselves immune from any Public backlash via the ballot box.

In matters such as this, electoral accountability is paramount. Therefore in order to resolve this issue I would like the following action to be taken:

1. To appeal the decision made by the Planning Department and get the application re-heard by Councillors at a Public Meeting.

2. To ensure that any further applications regarding change of use of a religious nature are henceforth decided by the Council at a Public Meeting.

3. Point (2) must be included in the Council’s Constitution to ensure all similar applications are in future decided upon by the Council rather than an unelected body, i.e. the Planning Department.

I feel I speak for a significant number of the 'silent majority' who desperately crave proper electoral accountability for decisions that affect their communities yet feel so disenfranchised with politics they do not consider it worthwhile to be a part of the political system. When an elected body shies away from important decision making, in situations such as application 12/04730/FUL, the disillusionment of the 'silent majority' will increase.

I have read and understood the complaints procedure and look forward to a satisfactory outcome. I would appreciate a reply that includes details of who to contact next if I deem the Council’s reply to be unsatisfactory.

Yours sincerely
Mr P Reddall