Government launches public inquiry into Forest Gate Islamic school

A public inquiry will be held into an attempt by Newham Council to close an Islamic School in Forest Gate.

The council confirmed a planning hearing over the Alif Academy in Katherine Road due to be held last Tuesday was cancelled and replaced with a special public inquiry. It will begin on April 26 at East Ham Town Hall.

The independent school is registered with the Department for Education (DfE) and gained approval from Ofsted but Newham Council are determined to close the establishment because they claim the school “does not have either a fire certificate or planning approval as a school” and “permission was neither sought nor given for internal building works that have been carried out.”

Hearings are usually completed in a day or less but the decision to hold an inquiry means the appeal could run for several weeks.

Shahnoor Islam, the Academy’s campaign co-ordinator, said: “We don’t know the scope of the inquiry just yet but it’s good news because it’s in the hands of the central government now. It’s definitely very welcome news for us as a school.

“Now we are slowly building support in the community. We have heard from other Muslim organisations who have also been refused flat out for planning permission from the council and want to get stuck in and involved in our campaign.”

Headteacher Hasib Hikmat described the move as “an escalation” and said the Planning Inspectorate thought an inquiry would be a “better forum” to discuss the application due to “significant public interest.”

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Mr Hikmat said: “We welcome this because the actions of the council will be cross examined.

“We don’t want confrontation, we just want to run our school in peace and they are trying to defend an indefensible position.

“The good thing about the inquiry is that it really gives us an opportunity to look into the history of this case and explore the arguments involved.

“We’ve got the train of paperwork and our barristers are putting it together. Alif Academy may be small but we’re not going down without a fight. That’s our stance at the moment.”