• Wednesday, May 25, 2022

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‘Cash cow of parking is breaking up society’

Parking problems have disrupted several mosques. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

By: Keerthi Mohan

by NADEEM BADSHAH

ROWS over parking spaces around places of worship can be resolved by council bosses relaxing the rules during holy days, community leaders have suggested.

They have also called for worshippers to park their vehicle responsibly before prayers and urged religious groups to carry out more research into the number of spaces needed before buying a site.

It comes after a series of disputes across the country between mosques or gurdwaras and town hall bosses.

The UK’s oldest Sikh temple, The Central Gurdwara in west London, lost a High Court challenge in November over parking.

It could lose members of its congregation because of a lack of spaces due to new parking rules, with trustees arguing the move by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was made without proper consultation and in breach of equality law.

But Mrs Justice Lang upheld the council’s decision and said it was “entitled” to prioritise the needs of residents.

In Sandwell, Birmingham, plans for a Sikh community centre were delayed in October after locals presented a petition raising objections.

Harmander Singh, from the Sikhs in England think-tank, said the issue is forcing people away from their faith because people cannot find a parking space.

Singh, chairman of the National Sikh Security Forum and the Metropolitan Police Sikh Forum, told Eastern Eye: “It is sad. The worst time is for funerals. Money-making schemes parking restrictions provide like paying for parking, permits, fines if your tyre is over the line.

“We are breaking up society because of the ‘cash cow’ of parking – the transport system is not always accessible for the disabled and in rural areas.

“It is anti-faith; they should have a certain radius around places of worship of 200 yards for people visiting for a couple of hours grace, a bit longer for days of religious significance and have exemptions for fines and prosecutions. The Equality Law seems to have a hierarchy of which is more important as religious stuff always comes off second best.”

In response to the High Court case, a Kensington and Chelsea Council spokesman said the decision to increase the hours of control in the residents’ parking bays was taken after extensive consultation with residents, visitors and local faith groups.

It said the rules ensure that locals, including the elderly and those with mobility issues, do not have to walk long distances between their cars and their homes.

The spokesman told Eastern Eye: “The grounds of the claim made by the gurdwara were completely rejected by the High Court and the Council’s defence of its decision was vindicated.

“However, we have worked with the temple and other faith groups to suggest measures which could help to address their concerns.

“For example, we are creating more disabled parking bays immediately beside the gurdwara and visitors to the temple will still be able to park, for free, on pay and display bays and on single yellow lines outside of the controlled hours.”

Other disputes include plans for a mosque and community centre in Skegness, Scotland, raising concerns about traffic and parking. In October, the site was targeted by an arson attack.

In South Woodford, east London, there has been a row for several years over plans to rebuild a mosque due to resident concerns submitted about noise and parking.

Birmingham Council rejected plans to build a mosque in April after councillors were forced to park on double yellow lines when visiting the site. Councillors heard the proposal only provided 18 parking spaces for a building that could hold up to 250 worshippers at peak
times on Friday afternoons.

There have also been issues in Staffordshire and Preston in Lancashire over expansion plans for masjids over the past 18 months.

Mohamed Omer, a government adviser on Muslim issues, said: “First and foremost we have to be very conscious in the way we park at all times. Second, if there is flexibility from the councils to relax the parking restrictions on holy days, it would be good.

“However, what you have to balance is the holy days you choose. In return, we as a community should encourage wherever possible car sharing and only bring cars if absolutely necessary. Also, our places of worship should consider parking facilities before acquiring a site.”

A Muslim community in West Bromwich, Midlands, recently urged people to ride a bike to the mosque to reduce parking congestion and be more environmentally friendly.

Meanwhile, research revealed car parking charges and penalty fees are surging towards
making £1 billion a year for councils in England alone.

The council surplus for parking rose to £930 million in the past year, the study published in November by transport group the RAC Foundation showed. And the figure was up by £63m
on the year before.

The research said Westminster in London made the most with £69.2m, followed by Kensington & Chelsea at £37.3m and Wandsworth at £26.3m. In Birmingham, the
figure was £13.5m and £10.4m in Bristol.

The Local Government Association said income raised through on-street parking charges and fines is spent on running parking services and any surplus is only spent on essential
transport projects such as filling potholes.

Eastern Eye

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