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Unelected quango to decide on controversial mega-mosque for Olympic site

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Ambitious: an artists impression of the east
London mosque

The final decision on a controversial £100 million 'Islamic village' in east London, accommodating up to 70,000 worshippers, will be made by an unelected quango.


Plans by the Muslim sect Tablighi Jamaat to build the mega-mosque have aroused concern as the group has been accused of drawing young men towards an extremist version of Islam.


When the proposal emerged in July it was envisaged that the first phase of the mosque alone would accommodate 10,000 worshippers. But, the ultimate number, including visitors, could be as many as 70,000.


Many experts describe Tablighi Jamaat, whose name means Proselytising Group, as a peaceful, apolitical movement, devoted to spreading Islam, but others accuse it of links with Islamic extremism and even terrorism.


French intelligence officers described it as the "antechamber of fundamentalism", according to the Paris newspaper Le Monde.


Although Tablighi Jamaat has never been implicated in any act of terror, two of the 7/7 bombers, Mohammad-Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, regularly visited its headquarters in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.


According to the website of the architects, Mangera Yvars, the Islamic Centre will occupy 50,000 square metres of the lower Lea Valley at West Ham.


A decision on whether it gets the go-ahead will rest not with Newham's elected councillors but with the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation.


Although no formal planning application has yet been made, the proposal has stirred up substantial argument.


The public will be consulted - as with other planning applications - but if the corporation approves the proposal there will be no right of appeal. However, if the quango rejects the scheme Tablighi Jamaat can appeal to the Government.


Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, said: "The corporation has already said that the new mosque will make West Ham a 'cultural and religious destination'.


"This will be nothing less than an Islamic quarter of our capital city. But has anyone asked the people of West Ham? The non-Muslims? The moderate Muslims? The Muslim women?"


Tony Arbour, Conservative spokesman on planning for the London Assembly, said: "For this major decision to be taken by a quango is undemocratic. Local residents have been shut out of the process."


Abdul Kalik, the project director, said the mosque was intended as an "Islamic landmark". "It will be a long, undulating building borrowing ideas from nomadic structures and tented cities," he said.


The mosque would be illuminated at night by millions of translucent tiles and surrounded by an "Islamic garden, transposed on to modernday London", according to the architects Mangera Yvars.


The corporation is a public body, funded by Ruth Kelly's Department for Communities and Local Government. She appoints its independent board of directors. Newham council confirmed: "The decision will be made by the corporation."


Applications which go to the corporation instead of the local council include those for 50 or more houses and flats, large developments of more than 2,500 square metres of floor space or one hectare, development on green belt or 'metropolitan open land' and transport infrastructure.


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