The second day of the planning inquiry into the proposed development by Aspiring Communities of the Ice Pak site on Barkly Road, Beeston was taken up with evidence from Aspiring Communities.
Ash Mahmood was the first witness. He stated that Aspiring Communities intentions had always been to make the facilities of the centre available to the whole community. They had repeatedly invited residents to get involved and help to shape the activities offered. He said the centre was for local people and the only national event the group holds, a faith event marking the birth of the prophet Mohammed, takes place at the John Charles Centre for Sport. Whilst they had hoped to hold this event at Barkly Road, they had given up on this idea when they withdrew their first application and reduced the scale of the development. The event, he said “will not happen at Ice Pak.”
He described consultation events that had taken place at Beeston community Forum meetings, at an onsite drop in event and a public meeting at St Mary’s church hall. They had also issued a leaflet summarising the key points of the project. He said that as a group the local white community had not wanted to engage and held the view that “this is a façade, you just want a mosque.”
Cross examination dealt mostly with the numbers of people who might attend Friday prayers. Ash Mahmood accepted that there were flaws in the calculation of demand based on census data, but did agree that numbers had been underestimated.
Christine Thornton (Beeston Community Forum) asked Mr Mahmood how far leaflets had been delivered because she had not received on and whether Aspiring Communities had consulted younger members of the community. He said they had engaged through talking to parents at their sports events and at health and fun day events.
Bill Birch (Save Our Beeston) asked Mr Mahmood what the groups members, in Manchester, Scotland, Pakistan, etc were going to get out their donations to a centre in Beeston unless it was an International Convention Centre. He replied that charitable giving was a big part of the Muslim faith and it was common for donations not to be linked to usage.
Bill Birch asked where Aspiring Communities were going to build their next centre. Ash Mahmood said this was their first centre and they would learn from it before opening other local centres.
The next witness was Jeffrey Webb, a traffic engineer with Amey. He described the scheme in terms of parking and said that the projected peak numbers using the building (310 on Sundays) would require 131 parking spaces. This was based on an agreed figure of 43% of people travelling by car. This would be well within the 160 total number of spaces provided.
He described a parking survey which had shown that even on Friday afternoons and days when Leeds United were playing at Elland Road, there was capacity for further on street parking, should this be needed. He said that neither the construction traffic, nor the traffic generated once the centre opened would cause problems to the local road network.
In cross-examination Mr Webb said drivers would park in the nearest spot to the centre, which would be the onsite car park. Asked if he thought there was a significant risk that people would park inappropriately on nearby streets, he said no.
The final witness was Christopher Weetman, a planning consultant and former Head of Planning at St Helens Council. He explained how the scheme fitted well within a number of planning policies. In relation to Policy P9 of the Leeds Core Strategy, he said the policy recognised the importance of community facilities such as this centre. The policy goes on to say that the scale of the facility should be considered in conjunction with needs of the area, but he said, failure to do so would not necessarily mean the scheme failed the planning test.
In cross-examination he conceded that the examples of planning decisions that he had produced to demonstrate that occupancy could be controlled by conditions differed in various ways from the Aspiring Communities scheme. But, he said, they are comparable because they are precise and enforceable conditions. Asked if he thought a condition to limit numbers below the capacity of a building would be unreasonable and unlawful, he said no.
Thursday’s hearing is likely to be the final day of the inquiry. A discussion of appropriate conditions to place on planning permission will be followed by closing statements from each side and a site visit. The Inspector stressed that the discussion about conditions did not mean that a decision had already been reached.