We lose one at last!
A thing of beauty
One of the things that concerned me about our success rate was that people might take it for granted.
Well, not any more. On Tuesday night we lost our first case.
To be honest, I thought we would lose when I took the case on. I just couldn’t resist going down fightingfor the residents getting shoved around in their own neighbourhood.
The immediate neighbourhood
On Tuesday night, Sunderland got 15,000 square feet of solid mosque foisted on them. Don’t worry, the Council said, most of that floorspace will never get used. And the fact that the mosque outfit are adding a second floor and 15 toilets (more than a multiplex cinema) is coincidence.
The site already has two mosques very close by, one of them has been operating unlawfully for at least 7 years, with the full knowledge of the Council, despite two planning refusals, and an enforcement notice.
So why did we lose?
I was called in at the last moment. Residents had got up quite a campaign, and assumed that the Council would listen fairly to their concerns.
That was a mistake.
The other mistake they made was to get people to submit objections in the form of signed, pro-forma letters summarising their fears.
This tactic, along with petitions, gives Councils the opportunity ignore the objectors as a bunch of ignorant pie-eaters who won’t write a proper letter on their own. And Councils are only too happy to take the opportunity. Mosque Applicants nearly always accompany their applications with signed photocopy letters, and I have never seen a Planning Officer’s report discount the “letters in support” for that reason. But they will do so if the objectors try this tactic.
This was unfair, because there was no denying the strength and sincerity of feeling against this mosque. And there were over 1,000 (one thousand) objection letters.
It was dismal watching Councillors, who would never risk a prolonged experience of Islamic enrichment, lecture the people who have to put up with it every day. How Islam is a beautiful religion of peace. How beautiful the Dome of the Rock is. How, if only they could drop their prejudice they would soon find out how lucky they were to have the mosque in their midst.
And tough: they were going to get a mosque in their street like it or lump it. Lawful or unlawful, it would happen, so suck it up. I somehow doubted the Council would have such an elastic approach to the law about an unlawful massage parlour or an illegal Hell’s Angel chapter house.
The Councillors felt no fear from these objectors: they weren’t going to derail the PC gravy train, and these working class neighbours, mostly retired and elderly, could be ignored.
Residents will pay for this planning permission in tears during the years to come. The situation has progressed long past stage 1 – the parking jihad stage. And beyond stage 2 – the “F-off, this is our area now” stage. It has now progressed to stage 3, the “You really should sell to us” stage.
Pensioners in this area report men knocking on their door, with a few twenties and fifties in a plastic bag, suggesting it might be in their interests to sell up. This was reported in terms to the Council, but might as well not have been.
Stage 4 is not pretty. But it forms an effective pincer movement when combined with the squeamish police response that “We have no reason to suspect that a racial element to this crime madam”.
This is the stage at which the proudest residents give up the fight and go. I don’t know how long that will be. But my heart goes out to the bewildered residents who are going to suffer it, and who can’t understand why their Council didn’t to the right thing in the end. They are going to learn a lot about the sharp end of dysfunctional modern politics over the years that follow.
I’m not sorry we took the case on, even though we lost. These residents are the quiet poor who get the short end of the stick most of their lives, and taken it with gentle dignity. We gave them a chance, but I wish I could have won it for them. And how I wish we had been called in at the start.
We’re probably going to get harder in this respect, and only take on cases that we can guide from the start. Elementary mistakes are easy to make, hard to undo, and a gift to Councils who fear the derailment of their PC gravy train.
Sorry people, but you’re going to have to call us earlier in future!
Finally, the Council will regret this decision. The clash between Islamic law and state law is only going to grow, and Local Authorities will not be able to ride two horses for much longer. I don’t know if they will be held to account for this particular decision, but I think that they will. They will find that bending to unlawful activity is a long and unpleasant ride that they can’t get off when it ceases to suit them.