3rd of September 2014 | Scientologists “still in design phase” for Plymouth Hotel | “The Herald” Newspaper
On the 6th of June 2014 I visited the Plymouth Ideal Org (which is not far from where I live). This is a redundant Hotel that was bought by the Church of Scientology in 2010, for £1,000,000 (approx $1,644,417). I took a few pictures and wrote a detailed post about the history of the building and my visit.
Despite unrealistic promises about restoring this building and staffing it, four years later, the Church of Scientology has done absolutely nothing, and the structure is beginning to crumble.
Today, the windows remain firmly closed. After a succession of hot summers, followed by extremely wet winters, the unoccupied interior (especially the rooms in the core) must be suffering from the effects of damp.
In the meantime, the Scientologists of Plymouth struggle to pay the rent for the modest premises they currently occupy (image right)
Today, the local press finally noticed the four year delay, and published a story about it. Unfortunately, they do not seem to have bothered to actually visit the place.
Instead, they briefly interviewed a Church of Scientology spokesperson and reported her claims without further investigation. Consequently, the story is full of cringe-worthy inaccuracies.
For example, the photograph of ‘Plymouth Ideal Org’ used in the article (reproduced at the top of this page) is a library shot that is several years old – it does not show the plants growing out of the plinth close to the left hand guttering downpipe (image to the left).
Reporters also failed to notice the noisy homeless guys who use the loading bay around the back of the building to drink rough cider and socialise. Trust me – if you take the trouble to wander anywhere near the back of the building, this is hard to do.
Why is restoration taking so long? Lisa Coffey, the Church of Scientology spokesperson who was briefly interviewed responded to a reporter’s question with the following statement:
It’s quite a long process because we want to ensure that we get the scheme just right. It’s a historic building, so it’s important to keep the historical features. Ultimately we want to restore it to its former glory.
A lot of money is being spent on the design phase, but unfortunately we have no set date at the moment. There are about ten stages to opening a new Church of Scientology building, and we are now at about stage five or six!
She was less forthcoming on the question of when it would be finished.
Lisa said that the current main focus for the Church of Scientology in the UK was on opening a new site in Birmingham. “After the Birmingham site is open we’ll be looking at Plymouth and Manchester, she said. Once Birmingham is open, we will have more of an idea of when Plymouth will open. We’re desperate to open it soon, but these things take time.”
Birmingham Ideal Org
After pressure from the local council, plans were submitted and (despite 10 written objections from residents) approved in May 2013.
The Birmingham mail reported that several Councillors spoke out against Scientology calling it a, “corrupt, sinister and dangerous cult” – but the law left them no choice but to approve the application.
Graeme Wilson, UK public affairs director for the church, said work would start within the next six months and finish in 2014.
So, you might expect work to be underway. As of this date, it has not started despite the fact that it has already been awaiting restoration for six years – so far. Even the people who used to run Birmingham Org are sceptical that the new building will ever open.
Manchester Ideal Org
Not only does Plymouth Org has to wait until Birmingham is finished – according to Lisa Coffey, it might also have to wait on Manchester.
The Manchester building (image right) is an old distillery, which was bought in 2007 for $3,600,000 ($5,923,418).
According to this BBC report it is “[…] still empty after seven years”. After being refused planning permission in 2009, this insecure structure has been damaged by fire, and become a refuge for squatters and drug addicts.
The local council is now taking an interest. They have the power to order the owners to make repairs, or undertake repairs themselves and bill the owners. The realistic threat of such action would likely lead to the building being sold.
The Prospects for Plymouth Ideal Org
In summary: according to a Plymouth-based local newspaper, a Scientology spokesperson has stated that restoration of Plymouth Ideal Org (which has been on hold for four years) will have to wait for the completion of Birmingham Ideal Org (which has been on hold for six years) and possibly Manchester, too (which has been on hold for seven years, failed to obtain planning permission and caught fire).
Since it cannot be used as an Ideal Org, the unfortunate Manchester building will probably now be sold. In this situation, standard operating procedure for the Church of Scientology will be to launch a new drive to raise more money for a replacement. This will put their (claimed) timetable back by several more years.
Even if you believe that restoration work will eventually begin in Plymouth (I don’t) The Church of Scientology has set itself some improbably demanding targets – their spokesperson states in the “Herald” article that they plan,
[…] a library, chapel, information centre, book store, course and lecture rooms, offices and a cafe. […] scientologists also said they were hoping to employ 150 staff to run the site, which they believe will be attended by “tens of thousands” of people every year.
You can judge for yourself how feasible these claims are – the 2011 census recorded only 30 Scientologists in the catchment area and 2,418 in the entire country (figures which include ‘Independent’ Scientologists). In contrast, the Scientology spokesperson is quoted as follows,
Lisa said that up to 70 people were now attending Scientology events in Plymouth. Sunday services at the Ebrington Street site regularly attract between 30 and 40 people
My observations suggest that even these modest figures are an exaggeration – I have passed the Ebrington Street org (Image right) every day for last few weeks at various times – and have never seen anyone inside.
Judging by their activities in the nearby shopping centre (where they distribute leaflets, or deploy a handcart laden with copies of “Dianetics” and a few e-meters) they probably have only about 12-15 active members.
It is hard to see how they are going to advance from this present situation to “150 staff” and “tens of thousands” of visitors.
In any case, no restoration work on Plymouth Org can begin until a planning application has been lodged with the local council and approved by them.
These plans must be available for a reasonable period for public scrutiny, and listed online. I have been monitoring the Council website, and no application of any kind has been made in relation to this building. If the Church of Scientology are preparing plans, they are doing so in-house – and we have to take their word for it.
In conclusion, Plymouth Scientologists should not hold their breath while waiting to move into their new building.