He intervened during an ongoing public inquiry which will help determine whether the Brick Veil Mosque will be allowed to be built in its intended location on land alongside the Broughton roundabout.
Allegations have also been made that there was no adequate public consultation on the appearance of the three-story, 12-meter-tall building and its 30-meter-tall minaret.
However, those involved in selecting the plan for the historic place of worship said the global research undertaken for the suggested designs had ensured a high quality structure of which the city could be proud.
Preston’s new mosque is said to be open to the whole community, amid a warning against ‘t…
One of the reasons Preston City Council gave the green light to the project earlier this year – despite being against some elements of local planning policy, as it is in an area designated as open countryside – was that the style of the building referenced the city’s cotton industry heritage.
The whole project was seen as a “contemporary interpretation of the classic cotton mill”, according to a report presented to the authority’s planning committee in February. The minaret, in particular, was meant to have the appearance of a Victorian mill chimney.
However, it was this feature that proved a point of contention during the investigation. Rob Burns, a heritage consultant appearing as a witness for Broughton Parish Council – which opposes the plans – said the designers made “no distinction between Preston’s industrial history and its rural hinterland”.
‘The proposal does not celebrate local history, but is based on a poorly understood assumption that a mill chimney would be an appropriate response to this rural context,’ Mr Burns said.
Parish council solicitor at the inquest, Peter Black, added that while cotton mills with steam chimneys were a “feature of the Victorian town of Preston”, Broughton was a “remote rural village”.
However, Melanie Morris, the plaintiff’s heritage witness, Cassidy + Ashton, said she viewed the feature as more of a “regional marker”.
“I wouldn’t expect to find him in Broughton, but I don’t know…if that matters, because [the mosque would be] a regional landmark – it’s a building you see from the highway.”
During a two-day discussion of the appearance and surroundings of the mosque last Thursday and Friday, the inquest also heard from one of the experts who assessed the 213 entries in the competition organized by the Royal Institute of British Architects ( RIBA) to design the building.
London-based architect Jonathan Carter, who has worked in the profession for more than 35 years, said the winning pitch – which came from architectural firm Luca Poian Forms – stood out among a solid field as “a really smart idea “.
Asked by the applicant’s lawyer why the minaret – which will not have the traditional function of facilitating the call to prayer – could not have been reduced, he replied that the “juxtaposition” of the tower with the oval shape of the building was “essential” to its success.
“[The location] is a pretty harsh environment and, to me, it needs a bold response. If you water it all down, you’re going to lose a lot of the quality of what was designed,” Carter said.
Peter Black asked him if it might have been ‘a good idea’ if Broughton residents and their representatives on the parish council had been involved in judging the contest, given that they were the ones who would have had to ‘live with’ afterwards.
However, Mr Carter said that while the design was still ‘subjective’ he believed an ‘exceptional’ had been chosen for its location and he hoped it would be welcome – also noting that the competition jury contained members with connections to Preston, including the president of the Preston Historical Society, Aidan Turner-Bishop.
The inquest heard that Cassidy + Ashton attempted to engage in a pre-bid consultation process in February 2021, but the city council was unable to facilitate it due to Covid restrictions in place at the time.
He added that in April last year the company spoke to the parish council about its then embryonic plans and offered to continue to engage with the authority – but he claimed he was not told “never asked” for further meetings.
Mr Cassidy said an exhibition of the designs was then organized at a local venue for between 70 and 80 “members of the potential users of [the] installation” so that they can give their opinion on some of the practical aspects of the project
Mr. Black replied that the potential users were “not the same as the local community”.
He added: “You have organized an exhibition and discussed projects with the Muslim community, which is great… but you have not offered the same opportunity to other residents.
Alban Cassidy insisted that the people who were going to experience the facility on a day-to-day basis were the ‘right people’ to ask – and pointed out that many of them live in the parish area of Broughton.
Meanwhile, there was also debate over whether the final design should have been sent to an independent organization to undergo a review process, as encouraged by a Central Lancashire-wide planning policy aimed at to ensure “high design standards” on major projects.
Christiaan Zwart, the plaintiff’s lawyer, said if a proposal could already be shown to be of such a standard, then there was “no need” for a review. The mechanism is one that can be initiated either by the local authority or by those who are at the origin of an individual request.
However, Rob Burns said Mr Zwart’s approach would be to anticipate the process – “You say, ‘We think the design is of high quality, so there’s no need to send it out for review. design “. ”
Alban Cassidy insisted that judging the competition was in itself a “grander” affair than such a review anyway.
Following the inquest’s scheduled conclusion on Wednesday, Town Planning Inspector Darren Hendley – who is presiding over the proceedings – will write a report in which he will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Leveling, Housing and Communities as to whether the mosque should be allowed.
The request was ‘called’ for a final government word by Wyre and Preston North MP Ben Wallace and Preston Rural East ward councilor Graham Jolliffe after council gave approval for the plan to development in February.
The inquest heard that Preston City Council and witnesses for the claimant’s heritage and Broughton Parish Council all agreed that the proposed mosque would cause ‘less than substantial damage’ to the surrounding town setting of St. John the, Grade II* listed. Baptist Church.
However, Rob Burns, appearing for parish council, said in a report to the inquest that “very great weight” should nevertheless be attached to that harm. He added that he did not believe the public benefits of the program – which had to be shown to outweigh such harms – had been identified.
In his oral evidence at the inquest, he also said that whatever landscaping features might be agreed at a later stage in the planning process – if the government approves the development – it was “not all quite sure how you can mask a 30 meter high minaret enough that it doesn’t have an impact”.
Mr Burns also said there was a view from which the mosque and church would be seen together.
However, Melanie Morris, the plaintiff’s heritage witness, said there was only one view – from the northeast – where the minaret would be “prominent”.
She added: “The church tower is not particularly high – 18.5 meters – [it] does not extend above the tree canopy and is not felt from a wide area. This – and the amount of tree cover and construction of the M55, with its high embankments, naturally limits how far [away the tower] is experienced.
Ms Morris added that other road developments in the area – the 1958 M6 and the Broughton bypass of just five years ago – had already ‘damaged the rural setting and tranquility of the church’.