SOUTHEND’S councillors hold the key to the future of a disused studio building at the centre of rival bids to turn it into an “alternative school”, or an Islamic centre.
Members will to consider planning applications from two groups, both with designs on the former Midnight Studios, in Wallis Avenue, Southend.
One of the bidders is the Muslim charity which ran an Islamic centre in a Westcliff bungalow for four years without planning permission.
The other group wants to reopen the building as the One Love Centre, housing an Epic Quest “alternative school”, which would share music and dance facilities with the public outside lesson times.
Epic Quest already runs a successful school at the Friends’ Meeting House, in Dundonald Drive, Leigh.
Julian Esposito, who has run an Epic Quest school at the Friends’ Meeting House, since September, has signed a two-year lease on the building and started redecorating.
However, he will need planning permission before he can open the school or make bigger changes to the building.
He has applied to remove a roof to create a courtyard garden for the school’s 30 pupils, aged between seven and 16.
Mr Esposito, a former second ary school teacher, said: “We have been so successful in Leigh we are looking for larger premises.
“We are gambling on the fact that should it go well with the council, we are ready to move.”
Neighbours and one ward councillor have questioned whether a quiet, residential road with residents-only parking, would cope with as many as 200 Muslims visiting the building for prayer, gatherings and study.
However, the faith leader behind the plan to open the studio as the Jaafriya Islamic Welfare Centre says most visitors would walk and five existing parking spaces, plus two more it would create by knocking down a porch, would be adequate.
It says the building would be soundproofed to minimise disturbance to neighbours.
Nasser Hussain stressed the building would not be a mosque, since its opening hours would not to accommodate the five daily prayers required by the faith.
He added: “The community lives locally, so we don’t need much parking.
“We’ll have education for children, education for adults and resting for older people in the community.”
Southend Council will consider both applications in the coming months, and could approve one, both or neither.