Main story: Bendigo mosque to go ahead, VCAT rules
More coverage: Objectors to appeal mosque decision
OBJECTORS to the Bendigo mosque proposal failed to convince Victoria’s planning tribunal that the construction would have any negative social impacts on the community.
In his ruling, Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal president Greg Garde said arguments against the mosque had been unclear.
“Alleged social, economic and environmental impacts have not been demonstrated as being significant or likely with respect to the proposed mosque,” he said.
“There is no such place of worship currently available to those practising Islam in the region.
“The subject land is assessed as a good site for the mosque given its locational and physical contexts.”
Acting on behalf of the objectors – lead by Bendigo resident Julie Hoskin – Sydney lawyer and prominent Christian Robert Balzola had attempted to argue against aspects of the mosque proposal on planning grounds.
Social conditions are able to be considered under the Planning and Environment Act, forming the basis of the objectors’ arguments.
Mr Balzola had initially tried to have the tribunal president removed on claims of bias, while their main argument focused on the demand for a mosque in Bendigo and its position near residential areas.
He argued the mosque was “creating demand”, as there were about 35 Muslims who visit a makeshift room at La Trobe University.
His argument also included that “a mosque has specific and different attributes to other places of worship”, that there are “concerns about Islam and its integration with western culture” and a fear of the “Islamification of Bendigo”.
But in the ruling, Justice Garde said there was evidence of between 120 to 125 families of 25 different nationalities of Islamic faith in Bendigo.
He said general population growth was likely to be the greatest driver of an increase in people of Islamic faith in Bendigo, with the city predicted to grow by 40,000 people in the next 20 years.
The tribunal also accepted Rowena Street as an appropriate location for the mosque, believing VicRoads’ approval of the location showed traffic concerns could be managed.
Justice Garde dismissed noise concerns as large gatherings of up to 375 people were only likely to take place during the daytime on Fridays and the biannual Eid prayers.