Harrogate Islamic Association says 'community goodwill' helped it overcome anti-mosque campaign

Harrogate Islamic Association has said the "goodwill" of the local community helped it overcome a campaign against its plans to open the town's first mosque.

The plans to convert the former Home Guard Club on Belford Road into a place of worship were approved last week after several residents received letters in January which said they should object because the mosque would “only serve one section of the community”.

Planning lawyer Gavin Boby - who calls himself “the mosque buster” - also said in a YouTube video that he had been asked to help campaign against the plans.

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Harrogate Islamic Association member Zahed Amanullah has now said he believes the support of most residents - and other religious groups - helped the association win approval from Harrogate Borough Council.

This is the former Home Guard Club on Belford Road.

"We are very pleased the plans have been approved and particularly grateful to the Harrogate community for supporting us," Mr Amanullah told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

"We have spent many years building bridges with other faith groups and we have always felt welcome here.

"We have really relied on the goodwill of community members to address the campaign.

"We have also made sure that we are communicating with everyone effectively through social media. We want to have an ongoing dialogue with our neighbours and I think this really helped."

The planning application was submitted in October 2021 and has proved to be divisive, with 109 people writing to the council in support of the plans and 69 against.

The objections stem from concerns over parking and traffic on Belford Road which is a one-way residential street with a primary school.

In response, Harrogate Islamic Association said in its plans that the mosque "would not have an unacceptable impact" on the surrounding roads because it is near the town centre and there are public transport links.

The association - which currently meets in the Quakers’ Friends Meeting House - has been looking for a permanent home in Harrogate for around a decade.

Previous attempts to lay roots at other buildings have fallen through and the group has now raised around £400,000 of the £500,000 needed to buy the former Home Guard club.

The association said it wants to convert the boarded-up building into a space that can be used for religious, community and charitable events.

Mr Amanullah said additional funding will be needed to carry out these works as much of the roof structure and ground floor will have to be replaced.

He said: "Purchasing this building has meant raising additional funds to ensure that it is renovated sensitively and appropriately, given its history.

"This means we have to raise more money than we planned for, so we have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help us make up the difference.

"Fortunately, we have had pledges from community members that were contingent upon planning permission.

"However, we will need to raise more than that for emergency repairs, so we have set a target on our crowdfunding page of £200,000 to cover these costs.

"If all goes to plan, we hope to open the building, or at least part of it, by autumn."