Muslim school plan rejection ‘strange and bizarre’ say applicants

Friday September 22nd 2023

Muslim school

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

An Edinburgh businessman behind plans for the city’s first Muslim school has said the council’s decision to refuse planning permission is “strange and bizarre” as he called on planners to better explain why they did not support his proposal.

Akeel Umar complained of a lack of “factual data” and “technical information” to support the ruling, which he said “appeared to be” influenced by “personal opinions” and prejudice toward the Muslim community.

Change of use of the old governor’s house at HMP Edinburgh into a private primary school for up to 100 pupils “underpinned by core Islamic values” was refused by councillors on Wednesday (September 20) on the recommendation of planning officers who said neighbours would be “detrimentally impacted” by “noise and disruption”.

However Mr Umar, whose charity World Care Foundation is behind the project, pointed out the council’s own environmental protection department raised no objections and an impact assessment had concluded noise levels from children playing outside would be “low and desirable”.

Plans submitted in March – which attracted 629 letters of support and 209 objections – said the city’s Muslim population had increased from 11,000 to 14,000 between 2011 and 2018 and was “set to rise” further.

“The city has other faith schools but none for the expanding Muslim population. In our market research we discovered a significant desire to establish a Muslim school but also the desire to have it teach the standard curriculum of Scotland. In the future once this project is established, we would be potentially looking to open up a secondary school in an alternative location, to complement the junior school,” plans said, adding that ‘Eden School’ would be open to all, including non-Muslim children.

Speaking this week after the application was thrown out, Mr Umar said: “We find the outcome quite strange and bizarre on the basis that the proposal that was submitted for the planning application had been put together via consultations that were made with teachers, educationalists, architects, planning consultants and many other professional bodies.

“We find it very worrying and quite shocking that two of the internal departments from the council did not object to it. The planning officer did object but did not have any technical grounds – it was just personal opinions. There was no technical information given.

“We did a noise impact assessment which took into account all the aspects – daytime, evening usage of the building – which was of no objection at all by the council’s own environmental protection department.

“I would assume that there is interpretation going on at some stage but I’m struggling to ascertain how those decisions have been made. Because on one hand, we have factual evidence as well as internal council departments who did not object to it – yet the decision has gone towards the objection so it’s a very bizarre situation.”

The planners report said: “A Noise impact Assessment has been submitted with the proposal and Environmental Protection (EP) has been consulted. That service has concluded that the level of noise from Calder Road traffic could mask some of the noise source associated with the normal operation of the school; accordingly, EP raised no objection to the proposal.

“However, the additional daily traffic and characteristic school activities, such as outdoor play and gatherings, could be a source of noise that the planning authority would have no control over. Moreover, the authority could not seek to limit the number of students and the frequency of related activities.

“It is considered that the amenity of those in neighbouring residential properties would be detrimentally impacted on by way of noise and disruption.”

Mr Umar said he would lodge an appeal against the decision and also seek clarification from the council on how they arrived at the decision, which he said appeared to him as having been influenced by a prejudice toward Muslim community.

He said: “We have been working towards this for more than two years now, that has involved all the consultations, surveys, and homework. If there was any other technical grounds and factual information we would look at it, but the whole set of reasons don’t make sense.”

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