Australian council votes against building Islamic school

Camden mayor cites infrastructure concerns, but proposal had sparked tensions, with pig heads being rammed on metal stakes at site in November.

Cronulla riot 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Cronulla riot 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
An Australian town council on Tuesday unanimously rejected a contentious proposal to build a 1,200-student Islamic school, citing infrastructure concerns. Mayor Chris Patterson of Camden said the decision had nothing to do with religion but was based on the impact on traffic and loss of agricultural land. "It is a site issue, clearly a site issue," Patterson said after the vote. "We said all along religious issues, nationalistic issues, will not be entered into." More than 200 residents attended the council meeting amid heightened security, and applauded after the vote. The Quranic Society, a Sydney-based Muslim group that planned to bankroll the proposed school, was not represented at the meeting. The proposed school created tension in semi-rural Camden, about 40 miles southwest of Sydney. Town council meetings on the issue regularly drew large, vocal crowds, and even a protest rally of nearly 1,000 people. Tensions peaked in November when two pig heads were rammed on metal stakes with an Australian flag draped between them at the school's proposed site. During community consultations over the school, the council received more than 3,000 submissions from local residents, with only 50 in favor of the proposal. A council planner's report last week recommended against the development, but the final decision was left to the council. Media reports said the Quranic Society was planning an appeal. Patterson said the Quranic Society was "absolutely" encouraged to resubmit its plan if it could identify a different site within Camden. "We would welcome them to find an appropriate site. I'm all for choice of educational facilities," he said. Attempts to reach the group were unsuccessful Tuesday. The mayor said the planner's report raised issues including the inability of roads to cope with increased traffic, security concerns and the loss of valuable agricultural land. Islam is a fast-growing religion in Australia, with about 400,000 followers among the country's 21 million people. There have been occasional tensions in recent years, including days of rioting between Muslim and non-Muslim youths at Sydney's Cronulla beach in late 2005.