Ministers set to reject 'mega-mosque'

Reports that the communities secretary is poised to refuse what would have been the UK's largest mosque feature in today's newspaper round-up.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that "the government has blocked an Islamic group … from building Britain’s biggest mosque", which would have featured "190-foot minarets and three times the floor space of St Paul’s Cathedral … near the Olympic Park in east London". The newspaper said "the scheme, officially know as the Abbey Mills Markaz or the Riverine centre, was rejected by the local council, Newham, as long ago as December 2012, with councillors saying the building was too large". According to the newspaper, the group behind the scheme, Tablighi Jamaat, appealed, and the "inspector’s report was submitted to the government in January, but ministers have been sitting on it since then because of its political sensitivity". But the newspaper added that "sources close to the process say that the communities secretary, Greg Clark, has now made the final decision to block it".

Commenting in the Observer, Rowan Moore condemned the government’s latest changes to the planning system, arguing that "Starter Homes can only come at the expense of other forms of affordable housing currently provided through planning gain", and claiming that the proposal to make office-to-residential conversion rights permanent would be "essentially a gift to people who already own such properties, who will see their values rise by millions". Moore suggested that the Housing and Planning Bill "will provide short-term benefits to some groups at the expense of others. The winners will be more visible than the losers". He concluded that "the bill does look stupid in many respects" and speculated whether chancellor George Osborne could "turn his powers to housing … in a way that benefits the country as a whole".

The Times (subscription required) reported on London mayoral candidates’ plans to support cycling in the capital. The newspaper quoted Labour’ candidate Sadiq Khan as saying "he would ‘use planning laws to require more cycle storage provision in new office and residential developments’", while it added that Khan’s Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith would extend "20mph zones and restrict lorries in rush hour".

The Telegraph reports that "The UK will run out of homes for its ageing population if the construction industry cannot provide another 90,000 retirement homes in the next five years", according to a report from property consultancy Savills. The newspaper says the study shows that, while "current supply trends may meet the requirement" for "a bare minimum of 11,000 such homes a year just to sustain a projected two per cent annual increase in the number of over-65s", there is a "growing cohort of Britons aged 75 and over", who will "put additional pressure on retirement homes". The newspaper cites Savills’ figure that this age group is "set to rise by 3.2 per cent a year over the next five years", meaning that "the industry must supply some 18,000 homes a year".

The Times (subscription required) reports that "The designer of the Shard … has hit back at critics who say that skyscrapers will ruin the capital’s skyline for ever". The newspaper says architect Renzo Piano "spoke after unveiling plans for 224-metre cylindrical tower on the site of a former Royal Mail sorting office in Paddington", west London. The newspaper adds that "next month, a planning application will be submitted for the project, which would create 200 new homes and ease access to the railway station for more than 300,000 people a day". But it also notes that "with more than 260 tall towers being built or planned in the capital, critics of the changing skyline have called for greater planning control, claiming that ‘inappropriate’ designs are too often waved through".

The Independent on Sunday reported that "the government’s pledge to build one million homes in England by 2020 could trigger the approval of hundreds of new quarries". The newspaper said "while councils insist they will abide by planning rules to reduce the impact on communities of new extraction sites, activists claim many authorities are already struggling to cope with the number and complexity of applications". According to the newspaper, "market data from the South West and the South East – two of the most mineral-rich regions of the country –" indicates that "six million tons of aggregate would be needed to build 100,000 homes a year, the equivalent of 100 new quarries". The newspaper quoted Surrey County Councillor and South East Green Party chairman Jonathan Essex, who is pushing for "regenerating empty homes and derelict urban sites" as well as "proper reuse and recycling of construction materials and demolition waste" instead of new quarries. 

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