Around 100 residents gathered to demonstrate their opposition to a mosque which they claim is operating illegally.
The Muslim worship centre has sparked controversy since opening without planning permission in a former take-away on Waterloo Road, South Shore. On Tuesday night Natasha Shah, co-owner of the mosque, faced a barrage of criticism from opponents to the scheme.
Protesters said their anger had “nothing to do with race or religion” but that they were concerned the development would trigger traffic and parking problems in that part of South Shore.
South Shore businessman Greg Cook, who chaired the public meeting at the Waterloo pub, said: “There are very few people in favour of these proposals and there are a tiny minority that are desperate to play the race card.
“But this has nothing to do with race or religion. The suggestion this is in any way a race issue is ridiculous. If people think we have traffic problems in this area now, just wait until that whole block becomes one large mosque.”
The meeting heard that during Friday prayers, the forecourt of the mosque was filled with cars, and it was claimed up to 200 people could eventually attend.
Residents said they were also angry the centre had opened without planning permission, although a retrospective planning application has now been submitted.
Mrs Shah wants to eventually convert five properties into a large mosque, known as the Noor A Medina mosque, and a centre for community activities.
She told the meeting although the centre was already operational, nothing had been hidden from Blackpool Council planners. She added: “We have discussed it with the council from the beginning. The people who come to prayer on Fridays come and pray for about half an hour. We have asked them to walk or car share and we’re happy to pay an annual amount to use any local car park.”
But residents said the current site was not the right location for the development. Jonathan Brocklehurst, of Baron Road, South Shore, said: “There are mosques 15 minutes down the road in Preston and Blackburn which are purpose-built and do have enough parking. I don’t think this development is something the Blackpool area is comfortable with and there are established communities in other areas rather than bringing all this additional traffic here.”
Some residents said they did not want to see changes in the community. But supporters of the scheme said religious rules meant anyone is “entitled to open a prayer room in their own property”.
Ward councillor David Owen, also head of planning at Blackpool Council, said the mosque was not operating illegally. He told the meeting: “The application Mrs Shah has put in is retrospective. If the use passes the tests, it will be given permission, if it doesn’t it will be refused and then enforcement action can be taken. She has done nothing illegal at this moment.”
Last week, a petition was handed into the council containing signatures from 3,000 people opposed to the mosque application.
Update: See “Mosque users answer critics”, Blackpool Gazette, 8 October 2011