§ Mr. Robert B. Jones
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he will issue his decision on the appeals by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) against planning decisions by Hertsmere borough council; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
After carefully considering the reports of the inspector following two public inquiries, I have accepted his conclusion that the current use of Bhaktivedanta manor at Letchmore Heath for large-scale public worship and religious festivals is not appropriate in that location, where the local residents can rightfully expect a way of life without such intrusion and disruption. I have also decided that the much larger facilities proposed at Elstree would not be appropriate in that very vulnerable part of the metropolitan green belt. Those decisions do not of course affect ISKCON's existing entitlement to use Bhaktivedanta manor as a residential college with its own shrine.
I fully support the aspirations of members of the Hindu community to worship in their own way and in fitting conditions. I also recognise the religious importance of the temple at Bhaktivedanta manor for the Hindu community. I have therefore been concerned that ISKCON shall have ample opportunity to identify a suitable alternative, either on a new site or by conversion of existing buildings elsewhere. Exceptionally, therefore, I have decided to extend the period recommended by the inspector for compliance with the council's enforcement notice to cease using Bhaktivedanta manor for public worship and religious festivals from six months to two years. That period will also provide added assurance to the residents of Letchmore Heath that the disturbance to their way of life will come to an end within a reasonable time.
I expect ISKCON to make every effort to take advantage of this opportunity to find an alternative which would be more in harmony with its surroundings. I see no reason why such an alternative, with good transport access and satisfactory car parking, cannot be found. It is not open to me as Secretary of State to indicate where such an alternative might be found, but I can assure ISKCON that any application which needs to be referred to me under planning legislation will be considered expeditiously, and with due regard to its special needs. My formal decision is being issued to the appeal parties today.