Permission has been granted for a mosque and other facilities at a site near Farnham, despite objections about the size of the new buildings.
Waverley Borough Council's Joint Planning Committee voted by nine to seven on Monday to allow the dramatic redevelopment of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association’s (AMA) Islamabad site.
The site is currently made up of decaying buildings from the 1930s, which the association has made do with since taking over the Sheephatch Lane property in 1985.
A new mosque, complete with minarets, will be the centrepiece of the new development, along with a large sports hall and other residential, religious and accommodation buildings.
While most councillors at Monday's meeting agreed that the current buildings needed updating, it was the size of the proposed mosque and sports hall that drew substantial criticism.
Stephen O’Grady, who represents Farnham Hale and Heath End, said: “I’m baffled as to why it needs to be so high, particularly in this sensitive area.
“I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Muslim countries and I have seen low-rise mosques used by tens if not hundreds of people.”
Stella Anderson Payne, the Islamabad ward councillor, also raised concerns, saying the construction of a place of worship did not help Waverley’s housing needs.
She added: “Construction of a sports hall does not help either and could take business away from our own facilities.
Chairman of Tilford Parish Council Nigel Relf also weighed in to demand that trees were maintained and replaced to screen the large buildings from view, since they would be ‘perched on the top of a hill, which from the south will be very obvious if tree screening disappears’.
Roughly 130 people currently live at Islamabad, which is the regional centre for the AMA, serving centres from Tilford to Oxford.
Despite the enlarged size of the redevelopment, the association has said the updated site would not receive any more visitors.
A spokesman for the association said: “We want to be the long-term custodian of the site. The current mosque is totally inappropriate and the new mosque is designed to meet the needs of the site.
“It is not designed to bring more people onto the site.”
He added that the new sports hall could be used by members of the surrounding community.
Carole Cockburn spoke up for the plan, saying: “I’m really quite shocked at the resistance to this. The existing accommodation is so past its sell-by date.
“Those of us who have visited feel you get the best of all possible welcomes in the worst of all possible buildings.”