MYSTERY surrounds the appearance of notices claiming a vacant shop in a market town may be turned into an Islamic prayer centre.

The property occupies a prime location in the centre of the Market Place, in Richmond, North Yorkshire.

It has been vacant for a number of years, since the Jumpers woollen goods store closed its doors.

The signs, which say that an Islamic prayer centre and charity shop will soon open on the site, were put up on the inside of the building's windows last week.

Such a development would need permission for a change of use from a retail unit to a community facility.

No such application has been made to Richmondshire District Council.

Estate agent Michael Charlton, who is marketing the property, which is available to rent, declined to comment.

Efforts to contact the owner have been unsuccessful.

The signs mention Richmond town centre manager Colin Grant, who has been working on a scheme to get empty town centre properties back into use.

Mr Grant said he was "baffled" by the signs and had no knowledge of any such centre being opened in Richmond.

"Three signs have gone up saying that an Islamic prayer centre and charity shop is going to open soon," said Mr Grant.

"I was baffled when I heard about it.

"The Richmond Swale Valley Community Initiative has a grant scheme that can help property owners in the Market Place to carry out repairs and get them back into use.

"We have not been able to engage with the owner and he has taken the decision to do what he is presumably planning to do now."

Mr Grant added: "It's quite upsetting to be honest.

"I have worked on this scheme since 2006 to get properties back into commercial use.

"This is the last property that is still empty and we have bent over backwards to try and get the property into a state where it can be used.

"I'm really at a loss with what is going on."