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Group accuses London borough of religious discrimination in planning dispute

The London Borough of Barnet has been accused of breaching equalities legislation by a Muslim group in a planning case.

The Markaz community wishes to take over the former Golders Green Hippodrome theatre, which was previously used by a religious group as the El-Shaddai Church.

Markaz wants to change the building’s planning designation from ‘church’ to ‘place of worship’ and has accused Barnet of dragging its feet in making a decision.

The proposed change has drawn both local support and opposition, with the Barnet Multi Faith Forum stating its support for the Markaz application in a statement by local leaders of various faiths.

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Law firm Setfords, which acts for the Markaz, has warned Barnet it may have breached the Equalities Act 2010.

It said in a letter: “At every turn, the council has obfuscated, delayed the process and made demands of the Markaz that it did not make of the previous owners, the El-Shaddai Church.

"It is inconceivable that such demands would have been made had the application been made by a community of a different faith.”

A Barnet spokesperson said: “We take pride in the strong faith communities that call Barnet home and support all in a culture of harmony and respect. The council has been working closely with the applicant throughout the planning process. 

“Planning applications are always assessed fairly, and on their individual merits, and our planning team is currently considering this application before it is brought to committee.

“It is not possible for us to comment in detail on a live planning application but we are aware of the concerns raised by the applicant. We are in the process of reviewing the issues they have raised and will be working with the applicant to get these resolved.”

Mark Smulian

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