HUNDREDS of objections have been filed against controversial plans for a new mosque.
The move by an Islamic centre to submit a planning application for the place of worship has prompted a flood of complaints.
Sunderland City Council has already agreed in principle to sell the disused vehicle depot in St Mark’s Road, Millfield, which is hoped to provide a replacement for the “illegal” mosque operating further up the road.
Many residents are furious at the plans, with one claiming Millfield will “end up being Mosquefield” and the council has received 623 letters of objection and a petition bearing 1,462 signatures.
Lib Dem councillor Paul Dixon, who has been working with the objectors, said the residents had fought a “clean campaign” and stressed their objections were not based on racism or Islamophobia.
“All credit has to go to the residents on this, and it’s been a difficult time for them to get all the objections in,” he said.
“People are concerned about noise, traffic and parking. There’s also the impact on the character of the area.”
Coun Dixon said the mosque, which would include a new frontage with two domed columns, would be out of keeping with the 1900s artisan cottages in the area.
He said prayer times – which can take place in the early hours of the morning – were also a concern.
He added: “It’s next to a nursing home. I understand the residents and manager have objected and is near a lot of elderly people’s homes.”
The councillor said residents had “taken stick from all sides”, including extreme right-wing groups and people at the council.
He said Millfield was a multi-ethnic, multi-faith area and the mosque plans risks “upsetting the balance”.
The proposals include 20 parking spaces, separate male and female entrances and prayer areas, a library and social services facilities, washing and toilet facilities and a body preparation area.
The application was submitted by Mazhar Mahmood on behalf of the Pakistani Islamic Centre. The Echo was unable to contact anyone from the group.
So far, there have been three letters in favour of the development. One supporter, Ahmed Salim, said the new mosque would allow a multicultural society to flourish, and provide services lacking in the area.
Christine Spoor, who lives off Hylton Street, said there were already three mosques in the area, including the present centre in St Mark’s Road, which is operating without planning permission.
“It will end up being mosquefield, not Millfield,” she said.
Ms Spoor said she was concerned about noise, parking and traffic – particularly highway safety – and fears mosque parking could open the floodgates for illegal parking by passengers using the Metro station.
She said: “I understand there’s going to be a morgue there. You can’t predict when someone is going to pass away, so they will want to have access at all times.”
Steven Helens, 43, from Regal Road, vice-chairman of the Millfield Residents’ Association, said: “This development is too big for such a small residential area. There are already issues with parking and noise from the existing mosque in Millfield.”
Paul Carr, 36, a sports science student at Sunderland University, lives with wife Helen, 37, and children Hannah, five, and Adam, 10, in Earl Street.
He is concerned about noise and highway issues, and the fact he feels the mosque will not fit with the residential area.
Mr Carr said the council had been looking at introducing traffic-calming measures, but he understood these had been put on hold in light of the application.
He said: “Does that mean the mosque is more important than my kids’ safety? That’s what I’m taking it as.”
The council said the sale of the depot was subject to the mosque development being given planning permission.
A council spokesman said: “As with all planning applications, interested parties have the opportunity and have been making their representations.
“This application for change of use of a vehicle storage depot at St Mark’s Road to provide a place of worship will be considered in due course. Details are available at www.sunderland.gov.uk.”