Temple plan for historic site
An historic building in the heart of the St George Conservation Area in Leicester could become a place of worship.
The city council has received a licensing inquiry about the empty Edwardian Guild for the Disabled building, in Colton Street, from the Shri Shirdi Baba Temple Association, an international religious organisation.
Leaders would like to use the Grade II-listed building, which is on English Heritage's "at risk" list, as a temple and meeting place.
Darshan Singh Nagi is chairman of the Shri Shirdi Baba Temple Association, which has a UK base in Wembley, north London.
He said: "We are in the process of signing a lease with the owners but want to be sure that it would be okay to use the building for worship.
"That's why we have applied to the council for a certificate for this purpose."
The temple association takes its name from Indian holy man and deity Sai Baba, of Shirdi, a village near Mumbai, who preached peace, charity and harmony under one god.
Mr Singh said: "He was well known for performing miracles and although his millions of devotees worldwide observe a loosely Hindu tradition, he is revered by Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and Hindus alike.
"The hall would be used by our followers in Leicester and all people would be welcome."
Built in 1909 by city architects A and T E Sawday, the building, now called the Charles Venue, was the first in Britain, and possibly the world, to be designed for people with disabilities, complete with wheelchair access. Listed by English Heritage in 1992, it has been empty since 2000, when disabled charity Mosaic moved to new headquarters.
The city council refused a licensing application last year by Belgrave developer Ashik Madlani – who wanted to use it to stage plays, films, wrestling, live music and dance events – after concerns were raised by residents over noise disturbance.
"Our use would be a very quiet and peaceful one," said Mr Singh.
"We would like to breath new life into this truly beautiful and historic building so that the people of Leicester can be proud of it once again."
Graham Lees, spokesman for the Leicester Victorian Society, said: "When a lovely building like this is left empty for too long it is a big concern to us.
"It is far better for it to cared for and maintained while being used in an appropriate way."
A Leicester City Council spokesperson said: "The application is for a Certificate of Proposed Lawful Use.
"This process allows the applicant to ask for the council's legal opinion as to whether or not the Guild for the Disabled can be used as a place of worship without the need for planning permission.
"Current planning legislation allows for the grouping of similar uses in one category. A training centre and place of worship would fall within the same group.
"A change between uses within the same group will not normally require planning permission.
"We are undertaking research into the history of the site to identify if the building can be used as a place of worship without the need for further planning permission.
"Any related alterations to the building would still need planning permission."