Plans to set up an Islamic centre in Galashiels have hit a hitch.
The Borders Islamic Society, a charitable trust founded in 2007, has been searching for suitable permanent premises in the town to host prayers, worship and educational activities for over a year.
Up to now, afternoon prayer gatherings have taken place every Friday in the town’s Focus Ability Centre.
Last month, the group’s secretary, Ahmed Mustafa, was given planning consent by Scottish Borders Council to change the use of an empty two-storey office building in Roxburgh Street to cater for some of the estimated 400 Borders-based Muslims for whom the nearest mosque is in Edinburgh.
Permission was granted despite six neighbours’ objections citing the potential for traffic congestion and “noise and disturbance”.
As a condition of the consent and on the recommendation of environmental health officers, Mr Mustafa was ordered to submit a noise management plan before any change of use could take place.
That document was required to “identify, assess and propose mitigation for potentially noisy activities, such as amplified and non-amplified speech, singing and playing of musical instruments associated with the proposed use”.
But according to Mr Mustafa, the cheapest quote he has been able to obtain from consultants to carry out this assessment is £1,500. And, in his view, the demand is unnecessary and the cost prohibitive.
“While acknowledging that the council has been very supportive of our aspirations, this planning condition is proving problematic,” said Mr Mustafa, a surgeon at the Borders General Hospital in Melrose.
“I’ve been waiting for weeks to sign the Roxburgh Street lease but cannot do it without this noise management plan which the society is expected to pay on top of the extensive refurbishment costs we will also have to meet.
“Unless we can get a cheaper quote, then I cannot see us being able to move into the premises, which, ironically, are next to the hall where the Galashiels Town Band rehearses.
“It is our intention that the speaker leading the prayers will have no microphone, and our worship involves no singing and there are no musical instruments, so it’s frustrating to be faced with this demand, especially as there has never been any complaint about the noise at the Friday prayers in the Focus.
“If the issue cannot be resolved, we may have to reconsider the choice of premises and look again for something more suitable.”