Religious debate heats up as mosque decision nears

PROPOSAL: The mosque design. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

PROPOSAL: The mosque design. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

FULL COVERAGE: Bendigo mosque: Emotion fuels debate

POSSIBLY the most controversial building proposal in recent times - a $3 million mosque to be built in East Bendigo - will come before council this week. 

The facility, planned for Rohs Road in East Bendigo and funded by the Australian Islamic Mission, will feature two prayer halls, education facilities, a community sports hall and office. 

There has been 254 objections to the proposal, with 67 per cent based on religious grounds and concern over the influence of Islam. 

The objections note the "root of violence, negative change in communities, terrorist threat, introduction of Sharia law, dilution of Christian values and treatment of women".

There was also 53 objections which noted concern over a Muslim enclave occurring around the mosque, 105 concerned about traffic and 66 about the impact on parking.

Almost 40 submissions are in support of the mosque to be built, saying consideration must be given to human rights and the freedom to practice belief and faith.

Council officers have recommended that City of Greater Bendigo councillors approve the mosque, saying the proposal met the requirements of the planning scheme. 

A report before council notes considerations surrounding the social impact of a place of worship. 

"In particular many have given opinions on the Islamic faith ... for instance some have said that the building of a mosque will lead to local residents being harassed and abused by attendees," it states. 

"This would clearly be an adverse social impact if it were to occur. 

"Notwithstanding the opinions held about the impact of the building of mosques in other communities, to refuse the application on social impact grounds would require evidence that the building of a mosque in Bendigo would indeed have adverse social impacts."

It says that officers had concluded that opinions that the social impact in other places in Australia and around the world was not compelling evidence that it would happen in Bendigo. 

The report also goes into detail about whether it is appropriate to locate a place of worship in an industrial area.

"Cultural and community facilities are encouraged in or on the edge of activity centres by state planning policy," it states. 

Objections were received from all areas of Australia, with 40 from East Bendigo, 163 from the rest of Greater Bendigo, 13 from the rest of Victoria and 16 from other states.

A further 22 objections were received from people who only gave an email address. 

The council did not arrange a consultation meeting involving submitters.

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