Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby could buy building as Muslim group seeks home
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby says he is considering buying a building to house a Muslim community group which controversially plans to lease a Leicester Scout hut.
The As-Salaam Trust's plans to turn the disused council-owned property in Thurncourt Road, Thurnby Lodge, into a community centre and prayer room have met with opposition from people who live on the estate.
Residents have handed the mayor a 1,500-name petition against the plan, arguing the building should be made available to the wider community.
They have also staged a series of protests against the plan, gathering in groups outside a nearby community centre where Muslims have been meeting to pray for the past two-and-a-half years.
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The worshippers have complained they feel intimidated by the protests, which have been subject to a long-running police operation to make sure they remain peaceful.
Sir Peter, who has been working with the trust to see if an alternative council-owned premises could be found, told the Mercury: "I have to think very carefully about buying something. I have not ruled out any possibility, but the council does already own a number of buildings in the area.
"There is an annexe at the back of the nearby community centre, which is operated on a key-holder basis, which could be a possibility."
Sir Peter said: "I want to meet the ambitions of all people involved but there is nothing settled yet. I am enormously grateful for the effective and sensible way the police have been involved with this.
"They have tried to maintain people's rights to express their views and avoid any escalation."
He said he was mindful of the burden the matter continued to be on both the police and the council and the need to resolve uncertainty in the local community.
Maxine Williams, landlady of the Stirrup Cup pub, next to the Scout hut, has helped organise the protests.
She said: "Our concerns have always been about the traffic this will cause.
"The protests have continued but the numbers are down a bit because it is winter. We will continue until this is resolved.
"We have put a fire outside the pub to keep people warm.
"I am not sure the annexe behind the community centre will be big enough because As- Salaam says it is growing."
The Mercury was unable to contact anyone from As- Salaam.
The police have powers to disperse protesters from the scene if they feel there will be public order issues.
A force spokeswoman said those powers had only been used "one or two times."
She also said that the policing operation, which has cost more than £200,000 so far, was now mainly being overseen by local beat officers with occasional reinforcements from other areas when required.