Councillors have backed a controversial decision to turn a piece of greenspace into a £55,000 ‘community’ car park.
Cabinet members at Stoke-on-Trent City Council made the decision to create parking for 25 vehicles on the plot off Lower Spring Road, Normacot last month, but it was ‘called in’ by a group of five City Independent and Labour councillors.
They questioned the decision-making process and the use of taxpayers’ money to create a car park primarily for worshippers at the nearby Gillani Noor Masjid Mosque, which is a major source of traffic congestion in the area.
Members of the city renewal overview and scrutiny committee spent nearly three hours examining the issue – which dates back more than a decade – and eventually voted to reaffirm the cabinet’s decision.
But campaigners fighting the plans, and their supporters on the council, say the matter could yet be taken to judicial review.
Labour councillor Desiree Elliott, who was among those who called in the decision, told the committee that the report to cabinet had not included the full history of the site and the wider issue of parking around the mosque.
In 2014 the council had been due to sell a nearby piece of land in Upper Normacot Road, with the requirement for it to be used for parking, but these plans were eventually shelved following objections from the public. But this was not mentioned in the cabinet report.
Ms Elliott said: “The background to this issue goes back a long, long time. But the decision was made at cabinet without all that background information. I question whether cabinet members, especially the new cabinet members, were able to make an informed decision.
“I find it difficult to see how due process was followed here. A part of me asks whether there was a reason why this information was kept out.”
Ms Elliott also said that creating the car park would destroy the ‘prettiest’ piece of public open space in the area, and result in the loss of six mature trees.
She added: “If this wasn’t council-owned land, these trees would actually be covered by tree protection orders.”
Committee chairman Lee Wanger, who also called in the decision, questioned why the council was spending taxpayers’ money on a car park that would mainly benefit a private organisation.
He said: “The mosque is causing the traffic problems in the area, so why should the council pay to solve them?”
The committee was told that the mosque would be contributing £20,000 towards the cost of the car park, via a ‘section 106’ planning agreement.
Dan Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, said that the Lower Spring Road car park would benefit local business and a nearby nursery, as well as members of the mosque, and that there were plenty of examples of the council creating community car parks in similar circumstances.
He said: “I don’t see any difference between a car park for a chip shop or a mosque. As we have done this elsewhere in the city, members of this community may rightly wonder why the council isn’t doing the same thing for them.
“I’ve seen some comments from people who seem to have a problem with this just because it involves a mosque. I really thought we had got past that sort of thing here.”
Mr Jellyman also said it was ‘insulting’ to suggest that the cabinet had not been aware of all the issues surrounding the decision.
Committee member Alastair Watson said that while council chiefs had been able to answer questions about the car park decision, there remained a sense of ‘intrigue’, due to the way it had been handled.
While Ms Elliott proposed that the issue be referred to full council, councillor Ross Irving called for the committee to reaffirm the cabinet’s decision, saying they had spent long enough examining the subject.
He said: “I think we’re making a mountain out of a molehill over this issue. There clearly is a need for a car park in this area.”
Most committee members backed Mr Irving’s motion.
Former councillor Neil Day, who has been helping the Normacot residents opposed to the car park plans, said he was ‘exceedingly disappointed’ with the decision.
He said: “This process has been put together in just three weeks, after this issue has been going on for 12 to 14 years. If this goes to judicial review, I don’t think this decision will be robust enough.”