New Mosque planned for Mill Road
Cambridge City Council has announced plans to construct the city’s first purpose-built mosque, after it approved plans submitted by the Muslim Academic Trust.
by Emily Handley
Friday 26th October 2012, 02:01 BST
The application for the £17.5 million building, which will occupy the former site of the Robert Sayle warehouse on Mill Road, was initially met with mixed reactions when it was submitted in August.
City centre residents opposed the construction on the grounds of parking and traffic congestion, as the area is a popular shopping street and residential area. This comes after the news in December last year that homeowners on the street received anonymous leaflets asking them if Cambridge needed “a megamosque... that will dominate and overbear the area”. The pamphlets also warned of disturbance, and attempts have been made to veto the plans due to possible fears about congestion. The Muslim Academic Trust responded to the claims by saying that car parking facilities would be included, and many worshippers would cycle or work to the mosque.
The only mosque currently used in Cambridge is on Mawson Road, which has become so busy that visitors have prayed in shifts or even had to pray in the street. The new mosque will create more space in its capacity for 1000 worshippers, and it includes a restaurant, teaching rooms, gardens and a car parking facility for 80 vehicles. It will be designed by Marks Barfield, the architectural firm who were behind the London Eye and the treetop walkway in Kew Gardens. The firm wishes for the mosque to blend in with its surroundings, meaning that it will not have a minaret or any distinctive features apart from a gold dome.
Anne Prince, from the East Mill Road Action Group, has praised the mosque’s project team, saying: “The Muslim Academic Trust has been fantastic at engaging with the local community. It chose to be very open about its plans, and the mosque will be the most contemporary building in this area.” In January 2011, an inquiry vetoed plans to replace a former school with a mosque in Camberley, Surrey, highlighted by its proximity to the Sandhurst Military Academy. In his decision, the planning inspector in charge of the project said the “loss of the school would harm the architectural conservation area along the London Road”.
Nuzhat Tabassum, a student at Jesus College, supports the plans to build a larger mosque, mentioning that “prior to the build, we used to have to hold events in churches.”
Lee Sharkey, the secretary of the Cambridge University Atheist and Agnostic Society a second-year student at Pembroke, said of the proposals: ‘I agree wholeheartedly with the plans for a mosque on Mill Road. As an atheist, I don’t agree much with Islam, as with any religion, but the freedom of religion that we have in Britain is something to be very protective of.
“When the mosque opens, I will delight in the fact that people have increased freedom to believe and practise as they want.” Danielle Cluley, a Muslim student at Corpus said “It’s not compulsory for women to pray in a mosque so it won’t have that much of an effect on me since I pray at home mostly. I do think it would provide a good atmosphere for the Muslim community in Cambridge, as you don’t have to go there to pray, you could visit just to read the Qur’an for example.”