MEMBERS of the Shia Muslim community have been refused permission to use an Ifield house as a place of worship.

An application asking to change the use of Stafford House, in Bonnetts Lane, Crawley, was before Horsham District Council’s planning committee on Tuesday (November 6).

It included proposals to extend the house and link it to a two-storey meeting hall, which would be built on the same site.

The committee had refused an almost identical application in January, with concerns raised about traffic and the impact the plans would have on neighbouring homes.

With officers recommending this latest application also be refused, they were accused of being ‘hell bent on refusing this development on grounds that just don’t hold water’.

The accusation was made by Simon Brett, agent for the applicant, who told the meeting that a letter had been circulated, encouraging objections ‘on grounds that it is for a mosque’, which he felt was ‘verging on racist’.

His words were given short shrift by the committee’s vice-chairman Liz Kitchen (Con, Rusper & Colgate), who said: “I’d like to make it absolutely clear at the beginning of this, as I did at the last meeting, that my objection to this has got nothing to do with what the use is for. It has everything to do with traffic movement.”

A report put before the meeting explained that, for the past five years, the Shia community had been renting community and leisure centres in Crawley when hosting events, and was in need of a dedicated place of education and worship.

It added: “While there are other mosques within Crawley, these are used by Sunni Muslims who, although celebrating the same events within the Islamic calendar, do not undertake prayers and meetings together.”

Dr Andleeb Khan, a GP at the Courtyard Surgery, in Horsham, gave a heartfelt account of problems with her mother’s funeral, brought about because the Shia imam was not allowed into the Sunni mosques to conduct the service.

The meeting was told that the application would not only provide a flat for the imam, but also a  preparation room where bodies would be ceremonially washed and prepared prior to burial.

While there was sympathy from the committee, it was pointed out that none of the religious issues were planning matters.

Peter Burgess (Con, Holbrook West) said: “I’ve got the deepest sympathy with the applicant’s need for a place of worship and listened with some considerable distress to some of the unfortunate events that it’s led to.

“However, I do have to state that this is a planning matter only, and there are sufficient reasons to ensure we refuse this application.”

Mr Burgess added: “I do hope the Shia community do find somewhere suitable very soon.”