Newcastle Muslim Association spokeswoman Diana Rah outside Newcastle Mosque at Wallsend. BUCHANAN could host the Hunter’s first purpose-built mosque if a Newcastle Muslim Association proposal revealed on Thursday wins approval.
Almost four years after the Association’s plans for a place of worship at Elermore Vale mosque were scuppered in court, the Wallsend-based Islamic group has announced it will seek approval to build a prayer space and small funeral home on a property between Maitland and Kurri Kurri just off the Hunter Expressway.
While formal plans are yet to be lodged for the site, Newcastle Muslim Association spokeswoman Diana Rah said specialist studies had been completed.
The existing Islamic community will not relocate from Wallsend, she said, but the NMA was striving to be proactive with neighbours and the wider community from the beginning.
‘‘We are confident that this site is suitable to fulfil the needs of our proposal,’’ Ms Rah said.
‘‘It is in a central position within 20 minutes from Newcastle, has a zone that permits a place of worship and ticks all the boxes.’’
Documents given to neighbours estimate 200 people will attend the site on a Friday between midday and 3pm for prayer.
During two annual festivals, that number may increase to 450 people.
An illustration on the documents features no minarets and states there will be no call to prayer.
Laurence Beveridge, one of the residents who lives opposite the proposed development site, said he and his wife retired to the area for a rural outlook and peace and quiet, which they believe would be ruined by the mosque.
“I object in the strongest terms,” Mr Beveridge said.
“I have owned the property for 30-odd years, but I would not live next door to that.”
Another neighbour, who wished to remain nameless, said he was not 100 per cent against the development but did have concerns.
“I don’t like it being so close to the road and I am worried about the traffic it will add to the area,” he said.
“We are a rural community, I don’t think it is a suitable development for the location.
“It also concerns me that it might bring vandalism and things to the area because of the reaction to buildings like this in other places.”
News of the Buchanan plan comes almost four years after a $6.8 million plan for an Elermore Vale mosque on Croudace Road was denied in court.
The Land and Environment Court ultimately quashed those plans in March 2012 when updated zoning plans prohibited a place of worship on the 8300 square metre site.
The Newcastle Herald reported at the time more than 1022 individual submissions were made against the mosque, with 32 supporting the plan.
While the Hunter Expressway has reduced travel time between Newcastle’s west and Buchanan, Ms Rah said it was not simply a matter of finding a new site for the old plan.
‘‘The purpose of the new prayer facility is a little different to the Elermore Vale proposal and is on a smaller scale with a layout more suited to the area,’’ she said.
‘‘One of the main purposes is to accommodate for the two festivals held each year.’’
In a wider context, the Hunter proposal also follows far-right groups clashing with counter-protesters in the latest chapter of a long-running wave of ugly opposition to a mosque proposal in Bendigo.
An illustration in documents given to Buchanan residents near a planned Newcastle Muslim Association mosque. No plans have been lodged for the building yet.
Hundreds clashed in the town centre in late August, forcing police to shut swathes of the town as United Patriots Front met with counter-protests by No Room for Racism and the Socialist Alternative.
Asked whether that reaction had guided how the Newcastle Muslim Association approached its proposal, Ms Rah said the Islamic community was taking a consultative approach.
‘‘We request that whoever has a query or question to please come forward,’’ she said.
‘‘We are open and committed to any concerns of the community.’’
Maitland doctor and Muslim Fazal Moughal, who has publicly called for a prayer area to be established in the city, said the development was good but still too far away for residents.
“We still need one here in Maitland,” he said.
“I’m sure it will be very peaceful but it is too far away.”
While the national Mosque Open Day will be held on Saturday, a lack of space has forced Wallsend’s community to hold its main activities on Sunday.
The Wallsend mosque will be open between 11am and 2pm on Saturday, with tours and a broader schedule of events running between 10.30am and 3.30pm on Sunday.