RESIDENTS of East Worldham and the surrounding area packed into the village hall last Tuesday to air their views on a controversial planning application by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK for change of use at Oaklands Farm, on Green Street, from agriculture and open storage to include use as a seasonal event space.
The site, known now as Hadeeqatul Mahdi, has for the past 13 years been home to the Ahmadiyya community’s annual three-day Jalsa Salana – a religious festival that this year attracted more than 38,000 Muslims from around the globe.
The site currently has planning permission which allows for a period of 28 days per year in which to facilitate the setting up, running and dismantling of the summer Jalsa.
If granted, the application currently lodged with East Hampshire District Council (EHDC) planners will enable the extension of the Jalsa Salana to nine weeks, of which four days will be for the event itself, but with an additional six weeks in order to facilitate three sporting events, each lasting two weeks, including set up and take down, with a capacity for 5,000 attendees at a time.
But the thought of yet more festival and event-goers clogging up the local roads and lanes, over a much longer period, has filled the surrounding community with dread.
Located within the South Downs National Park (SDNP), the residents believe that the proposal will do nothing to support the purposes of the park which are to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and promote understanding and enjoyment of the park by the public. They are concerned too over the impact in terms of noise and light pollution, the impact on the highway network, and the ecology of the site, which is thought to be home for at least two rare species of bat.
In its planning statement, the applicant argues that, given the limited and occasional nature of the current and proposed use of the land the overall impact will not be harmful to the character of the area. It also claims that, by bringing a large number of people to the site, it makes a significant contribution to the local economy – a fact disputed by locals who are of the opinion that a great deal of the infrastructure, including tenting, and food, is brought in by HGVs. Furthermore, neighbouring towns of Alton and Farnham suffer because locals are unable to use the busy roads to get in to shop and use the facilities.
Residents have particular concern too over the issue of drainage. With no mains drainage serving the site, the events will require the use of temporary portable toilets, with all foul water removed by licensed waste contractors. This year, however, there was an incident which resulted in foul water escaping into a nearby stream.
East Worldham Parish Council chairman Andrew Aldridge suggested that irregularities like this may have triggered the current application. At present, the on-site activities surrounding the Jalsa Salana are not regulated but, should this application be granted, the use of contiditions could mean that it is more closely monitored in the future, and allow for a cap to be put on the number of attendees.
Determined to fight the introduction of yet more activity on what they believe to be an inappropriate site, residents were urged to register strong objections on the EHDC planning portal, under application number SDNP/18/02170/FUL.