BBC observational documentary lifts lid on shocking decision to approve mosque extension

Date published: 15 February 2013

The image of Rochdale in the eyes of the nation was dealt a self-inflicted blow last night.

Rochdale featured in a new prime time BBC television series, 'The Planners', an observational documentary following planning issues, and the cameras lifted the lid on how the planning committee was 'rail-roaded'  into granting approval of an application to extend a mosque, that RMBC planning department recommended be rejected.

A mosque catering for the Shia Muslims in town had applied for permission to build a very large extension. Planning officers rejected the plans as poor and lacking the required parking spaces - the planners said over 100 car park spaces would be needed for the size of the proposed extension, however, the applicants proposed just three.

Councillors on the planning committee, who made the final decision, went on a site visit with planning officers and it seemed from the comments made that they too would reject the application as unsuitable. However, when the planning committee met there was very little debate, those councillors trying to question the suitability of the proposal were denied the opportunity by committee chairman Shefali Begum, who moved quickly to a vote because "it is getting very late" and ensured the application was passed without councillors who opposed the move being given the opportunity to ask questions.

Reaction locally has been one of outrage, Joanne Basquill said: "I was appalled at our council's attitude and approach to passing planning permission; what are they like when they are not being filmed by a film crew? It explains a lot of the issues Rochdale is facing in regards to town planning - but as long as Councillor Begum gets home in time what does it matter!"

Ian Davies said: "Sickened to the core. An absolute disgrace. The concerned members of the committee were totally rail-roaded by Begum. She should be ashamed of her conduct."

Jav Chowdry, whose father used to be a councillor, said: "Old fashion councillors like my dad back in the day worked with all communities. My dad did more for the non Asian communities in Rochdale and boy did the Asians not like it. Asian councillors today only care about their own Asian communities and nobody else.

John Butterworth said: "After tonight's televised debacle of democracy at work within Rochdale Council I have to say I have nothing but contempt for the town I once loved and defended."

Rochdale Online reporter Pete Hinchliffe, who attends planning meetings for RO, said: "It may surprise the public to see what actually goes on at council meetings but sadly, despite the shock and outrage that has ensued, what they saw was nothing unusual."

RMBC Planning Officer Rebecca Coley referred to the approval as a "vote seeking political decision".

The programme can be watched on BBC iPlayer:


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