Removing racist remarks about mosque on Westminster planning website is “like painting the Forth Road Bridge” because they are posted so often

By Julia Gregory, local democracy reporter

Politicians have condemned “unacceptable racist and homophobic” comments about a planning application for a mosque in the centre of London.

The issue was raised after a number of “racist remarks”  were made about a planning application to transform  part of the empty Trocadero at Piccadilly Circus into a mosque for up to 1,000 worshippers. The proposed mosque would be housed in the grade II-listed building’s two underground levels, which were used as a cinema until 2006 if the application gets the go-ahead.

More than 800 people have written to object or support the planning application.

But some of the comments about the application had to be removed from the council’s website because they are offensive.

Westminster City Council warned that “where appropriate we will be reporting them to the police.”

The issue of dealing with these comments was raised at Westminster City Council’s community services, business and planning policy scrutiny committee (Monday June 8).

Hamza Taouzzale wanted to know how the council deals with racist and homophobic comments.

The discussion came as the death of unarmed black man George Floyd threw the spotlight on worldwide. racism.

Councillor Taouzzale  said he was concerned by some remarks about the mosque plan. He said: “Some of the comments that I’ve unfortunately had to read through were horrible, they really were. They were racist, they weren’t aligned with any of our views.”

Councillor Matthew  Green, who has responsibility for planning also condemned some of the comments. He said: “I unfortunately have had the great displeasure to have to go through those comments about the proposed mosque at the Trocadero and it was a horrible experience.

“Our policy is that if there are any offensive comments on there that we go through and remove them. Unfortunately it is the planning department’s second time of doing this.”

He said there were some offensive comments made about a planning application for a Holocaust Memorial in a park beside the Houses of Parliament.

Councillor Green added: “It is unfortunately rather like painting the Forth Bridge. Once we’ve gone through and taken out all those comments we have to start all over again. It is a horrible task for somebody but it absolutely needs to be done but those offensive comments must not be allowed to be left in public.”

The applicant, an Islamic education charity, declined to comment.

Westminster City Council said: “The opportunity for members of the public to comment on planning applications is an important part of the planning process. Your comments help us to reach informed decisions.”

However a notice on the planning section of its website warned that “comments that are considered to be offensive or abusive may be taken down.”

It added: “We understand that people often feel very strongly about development proposals but ask that you please ensure your comments remain respectful of others.”

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