Plans for prayer hall withdrawn

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PLANS to convert a village pub into a mosque have been withdrawn.

Businessman Kaiser Choudry has told Durham County Council he no longer wants to proceed with his application to turn the derelict Melrose Arms, in Shotton Colliery, into a prayer hall.

The proposals, which would have created a place to worship for the Al-Hayat Foundation, attracted objections from residents.

They said the redevelopment of the building in the village's Front Street would cause parking problems and congestion and claimed visitors would cause a disruption as they arrived and left prayer sessions.

They were also concerned that although the centre was meant to serve six families from the village, cars of men believed to be from Sunderland used the building, causing fears it could be expanded and become a regional centre if the application was successful.

Objectors said the impact of the hall and its activity would be "too great" in a small village.

They added they were worried it could have an impact on house prices and groups of youths, who gather behind the building to drink and cause trouble, could cause further "tension and disruption".

A five-page petition of more than 70 names was also collected as part of the campaign against the scheme.

But one resident who would have used the hall said they backed the plan because it was within walking distance of their home and most people were pleased the pub was closed because it had been the scene of trouble.

A report by the council said Mr Choudry had not provided any justification to lose the pub as a community facility ahead of any decision, although officers agreed the hall would have offered some use to the village.

In his letter withdrawing the application from Durham County Council,

Mr Choudry states he plans to discuss the "best way forward for this

property" with planners and the community.

Coun Eunice Huntington, who represents the village on the council, said Mr Choudry was a valued member of the community who had lived in the village for 20 years and owned businesses and properties.

She believes locals will be grateful to him as a fellow resident for his decision.

She added: "I think they felt as through it was a dominating thing for

a small minority of people and it was going to change the character of the village."