New Islamic centre in Aylesbury to be 'welcome change' for area

A controversial Muslim community centre is set to open in the next two months after a final planning hurdle was overcome.

The centre, which will be in the former Skinny Dog pub in Churchill Avenue, Southcourt, sparked widespread protests when plans were first unveiled back in 2008.

But the committee which will be running it says relations with neighbours have now calmed, and organisers say they will be doing everything possible to address any concerns.

Last week the Toheed Ul Islam Association, which bought the pub for 600,000 two years ago, learned that an amended car parking plan had been approved by Aylesbury Vale District Council.

Speaking on behalf of the association's trustees, Javed Farooqui told the Bucks Herald: "From the planning point of view there are no more hurdles, but we want to make sure everything's ready before it opens.

"Hopefully we will complete work in the next four to six weeks."

And he said he is delighted that the new centre – which will offer Muslims a place to pray, as well as holding community functions – is set to open in the near future.

Mr Farooqui said: "It really is very badly needed.

"The Muslim community has grown a lot in the last few years in Aylesbury and before this we didn't have an Islamic centre, we only had one mosque.

"At the moment there are no places in Aylesbury for adults to get an education in Islam.

"We need to give the wider community a good impression of Islam, and this is why we are trying to educate Muslims."

Among the plans being considered by trustees are homework classes and setting up junior football leagues for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Mr Farooqui has vowed to make sure the new centre is open to all.

He said: "The centre will always be open for anyone, once we're up and running it's not going to be a restrictive place."

For the past month, the centre has been used to hold prayer sessions.

The Toheed Ul Islam Association, a registered charity, has had to carry out extensive work on the building, which was damaged in an arson attack in August 2008.

Mr Farooqui said: "There was a lot of work to do.

"The fire was on the back side of the building but the smoke did a lot of damage all round.

"It affected the plaster and the carpets.

"And we built a bigger hall downstairs and removed the chimney in the middle.

"There is more space where the chimney was, and in the corner there was a bar area, and we don't need that, so we removed that to make more room."

And he said that after suffering the misery of living near a lively pub, the cultural centre would be a welcome change for people living nearby.

Mr Farooqui stated: "We know that there were people who had issues with the pub, we heard that people used to come and urinate on their doorsteps and there were cans and bottles left lying around.

"There won't be any problems like that from us."

"This is completely for the local community, not for people outside Aylesbury."

When plans were unveiled two years ago, the Southcourt Residents Action Group was formed amid fears that the centre would cause a traffic nightmare.

This week member Marion Lambourne said that many association members have since moved away, but said that there have been no problems with the centre in recent months.

And Southcourt councillor David Ralph, who last year said a lack of information was causing a rift, said this week: "My concerns for the area are still as they were before, but since the planning application has gone through, I haven't heard anything from the local community."