REGENERATION bosses are celebrating after their plans to transform a Victorian church hall into a multi-cultural centre and mosque were finally approved.
New Deals for Communities (NDC) will convert St Paul's Church Hall, on the junction of Murray Street and Milton Road, in Hartlepool, into a ground-floor community centre and first-floor mosque.
It is the second time the application has gone before Hartlepool Borough Council's planning committee after councillors originally threw it out over parking fears.
Businesses in Murray Street raised concerns that the centre would cause traffic chaos. However, committee members were reassured that the majority of users would come on foot.
The scheme, which is in line for 440,000 of NDC funding, will see the existing Salaam Resource Centre, in Murray Street, and the mosque, in nearby Milton Road, brought together under one roof but as separate ventures.
Around 60 trainees will carry out the construction work as part of NDC's Opening Doors project.
The scheme takes teenagers and provides them with skills and qualifications in construction.
NDC programme director Malcolm Walker said: "We are very pleased with the decision of the committee and it means we can now move forward and start construction work which will take around 18 months.
"The centre is open to all and that is the important thing to remember."
The community centre will be operated by the Salaam Resource Centre and provide the same drop-in advice and training services.
Meanwhile the mosque will be used for worship, prayer and religious education.
Khalid Hussain, a member of the Muslim Welfare Association, which will operate the mosque, said: "We will be investing something in the region of 250,000 into the project over its lifetime. This is a great scheme that will bring the community closer together."
Independent councillor Stan Kaiser said: "We have a building that has been standing empty for a long time and if we don't do something about it now then it could lead to us having to knock it down.
"This is a fantastic opportunity to provide a multi-cultural centre."
Coun Carl Richardson said the development would "greatly enhance the area" while Labour colleague Coun Jonathan Brash said "it would provide an excellent opportunity for 60 young people".
One objector, who runs a barber shop in Murray Street, said the approval could mean him having to relocate.
Graham Hodgman, 54, who has been there for 18 years and produced a petition opposing the plans with 640 names on, said: "This is a blow to all the businesses in Murray Street and it could mean we have to relocate.
"We can't compete with the number of cars in the street."