‘Ignorance’ behind opposition to Bangladeshi cultural centre

THOSE behind plans to convert a disused pub into a Bangladeshi cultural centre have hit back at residents opposing the proposal, blaming their “overreaction” on “ignorance”.

Plans seeking council permission to turn the former White Horse pub on Stevenage’s Albert Street into a Muslim community centre and place of worship have resulted in opposition in the form of a petition, letters to Stevenage Borough Council, and plans for a protest march.

Concerns surround noise, parking and anti-social behaviour.

The plans have been submitted by members of the Bangladeshi Cultural Centre, who have been meeting at Springfield House in the Old Town for more than 15 years, but who want to move to new premises in order to expand their activities.

The centre’s secretary, Mustafa Kamali, and chairman, TD Miah, met with The Comet to respond to the backlash.

Asked why he thinks the planning application has received such a negative reaction, Mr Kamali said: “It’s a lack of broadmindedness to accept other people, their way of life, and their culture. It’s basically ignorance.

“It’s an overreaction. We are being accused of everything short of being called terrorists.”

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He also said there is a misconception that it is an application for a mosque, claiming “the mosque word has been brought up deliberately to cause fear”, because many people link it to Islamic extremists such as Abu Hamza al-Masri, and to terrorism.

“The application is for a community centre,” said Mr Kamali. “There will be some religious activities on a Friday, but it is not a mosque.”

The aim is to provide a drop-in centre for the Muslim community, as a place where elders can interact, where activities are provided for the young, and where members can practice their culture.

“We have absolutely no place to go and sit and learn about our culture,” said Mr Kamali. “We are only allowed a certain amount of time at Springfield House.”

He said most activity at the centre would not be “significant”, and that the only large weekly meeting, for Friday prayer, would attract no more than about 60 people.

In response to concerns about parking, Mr Kamali said the property’s 17 private spaces are ample because many community members do not drive.

In terms of potential noise and anti-social behaviour, he said “our activities go nowhere near that”, adding: “I can guarantee we will not be doing anything that will have a negative impact on the surrounding community.”

Summing up, Mr Kumali said: “Since we live in a democracy, where everyone has the right to practice their religion and their culture, we are extremely surprised by the reaction.”

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