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Mosque delay

An artist’s impression of the mosque. Image supplied.A LAWYER for Bendigo residents trying to kill a planning permit for the city’s first mosque has claimed adverse media attention played a role in scaring off potential expert witnesses from presenting evidence against the development.
Nanjing Night Net

On what was meant to be the final day of a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing into objections from a group of about 14 people, lawyer Robert Balzola successfully requested more time to produce expert evidence for the case against the mosque. The only witness he called during the hearing was his head client, Bendigo woman Julie Hoskin.

The mosque proposal had received Bendigo council planning approval back in June when mysterious black balloons began to appear around the regional city, including at the doors of councillors who had supported the project.

An anonymous email sent to theBendigo Advertiserhad claimed the balloons represented a stand against domestic violence, which it then linked to sharia law and the rise of the Islamic community in the region,The Agereported.

The objectors group, lead by Ms Hoskin, has maintained their concerns are related to planning issues, including noise pollution and traffic congestion that would come from any large development.

However, an initial letter Ms Hoskin sent to the council shortly after the permit was approved had included concerns about the impact of sharia law, the tribunal heard.

Another Bendigo resident’s concerns, also read out during the hearing this week, had included safety fears, because “Islam hates Christians”.

An expert town planner who appeared as a witness for the council on Monday told the hearing the proposed Rowena Street site in East Bendigo was an “ideal” location for a mosque, and that it would act as a buffer between nearby residential zones and heavier industrial zones.

On Wednesday, lawyers for the council and the permit applicant, the Australian Islamic Mission, objected to Mr Balzola’s request for an adjournment, saying his clients already had nearly six months to find expert witnesses and file reports.

Mimi Marcus, representing the Bendigo council, also said the claims that experts had turned the group away due to media reporting on the issue were unsubstantiated.

Ms Marcus said she was aware some witnesses approached by Ms Hoskin had declined for reasons that were not related to media at all. Mr Balzola said there were other hurdles to obtaining expert witnesses that had been raised by his group, including raising the money to pay for their services.

He said he’d recently secured a planning expert and an engineer who were prepared to give evidence for Ms Hoskin’s group but refused to name them publicly.

VCAT president, justice Greg Garde, allowed the adjournment and scheduled the hearing to continue on February 23, 2015.

An application to amend eight of the permit conditions made by the Australian Islamic Mission, which was being heard alongside the objections case this week, was also adjourned, despite VCAT hearing the council and AIM had reached an agreement.

– THE AGE

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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