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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mosque inquiry will cost taxpayers £100k

Taxpayers will pick up a £100,000 bill for the planning inquiry which resurrected plans for a Black Country mosque, it has been revealed.

The cost of the four-day hearing will be met by Dudley Council after the Government’s planning inspectorate overturned its decision to reject the £18 million proposal.

The authority was forced to hire security staff to police the summit at the inspector’s request - but will not receive a penny from Whitehall to cover costs.

The decision to allow the appeal for the project in Hall Street, Dudley, was this week announced after the public inquiry in June.

Dudley Council boss David Caunt described the decision as a “sad day” for local democracy saying it ignored the 22,000 people who signed a petition in opposition.

And Councillor Caunt said that the £100,000 bill rubbed salt in the wound.

“I’m very frustrated that a one man government-appointed judge and jury can turn up, listen to the arguments for four days and drive around the borough before coming to the conclusion that he knows better than the locals." The councillor added: “And then we have to pick up the bill for it".

“The security was requested by the inspector himself, but we have to pay,” he went on to say. The council chief warned the price of the inquiry could even run over the authority’s initial £100,000 estimate because of the tight security measures.

Work on the mosque, featuring a 65-feet minaret, could start before Christmas. However the plans could yet be scuppered by a land-swap deal which states that the building must be “substantially” built by the end of the year.

Dudley Muslim Association now has outline planning permission for the scheme, but still needs to submit a detailed application which the council has up to 13 weeks to determine.

When the site was transferred to the association in 2003 there was a legal agreement that if the project was not “substantially” completed by the end of this year the land would be returned to the council. Muslim leaders have called for an extension to the deadline.

Mushtaq Hussain, secretary of Dudley Muslim Association, said: “We always maintained the condition was subject to us getting planning permission and having a reasonable and realistic time to get the project completed".

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