The online version of the local newspaper (The Plymouth Herald) is reporting that planning permission for the renovation of the Royal Fleet Hotel has been granted.
Planning permission means that Scientology have an official permission to renovate the building and open it as an ideal org, according to detailed plans they submitted earlier. These can be viewed here.
Informally, the Council were not happy – however, they are local administrators bound by the rules that apply to these applications. Objections were lodged on the grounds of insufficent parking (which the Church walked right into, making ludicrously inflated claims about the numbers of active Scientologists in the whole region) to no avail.
Also, the Church employed Paul Butler Associates, a firm with considerable expertise in obtaining planning permission. Even if the Council had refused, their decision would likely have been overturned on appeal.
What is this Place For?
For the record, the 2011 census recorded only 28 Scientologists in the whole of the South-west of England – most are concentrated around the UK Headquarters in Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead. I have independently confirmed that there are less than 30 Scientologists here with inside information, observations of the org and by monitoring their social media presence.
Scientology is proposing to renovate a large, failed hotel which has
- 52 hotel rooms (singles and doubles)
- Two ballrooms
- Bars (this was originally a Royal Navy facility 🙂
- Two aparments for live-in managers and their families
All for less than 30 Scientologists.
This location will likely be as empty as the Ideal Org recently opened in Birmingham. Once the ‘Grand Opening’ is done with. Critics argue that these extravagent places have two functions
- To present Scientology as expanding to it’s members (especially the rich ones, who make large donations)
- To spend some of the huge reserve that the Church of Scientology has accumulated over the years (estimated at more than a billion dollars US) in order to demonstrate to the US tax authorities that they are pursuing the purpose for which they claim tax exemption.
A huge new facility will be subject to far greater local taxes than the modest shop which they currently occupy, and will require a subsidy from ‘head office’ just to keep it open.
Officially, it is a “high crime” to ever close an org, once opened, but if the renovation goes ahead it’s likely that they will abandon their rented premesis in Ebrington Street, just as they closed the org in Ireland after the new one opened.
What Happens Next?
This isn’t as clear as it might seem. Scientology has successfully applied for planning permission for this builing before. They allowed it to expire in 2016. After their initial success however, fund-raising moved into high gear before the 30-odd Scientolgists of Plymouth were disappointed again. The same thing might happen this time.
The local paper is considerably more sceptical about Scentology and its motives, which harmonises with local opinion. I can report that there is already some hostility among the nearby business owners and residents. This is likely to worsen considerably when they try to close off public areas for the renovations and especially the ‘Grand Opening’.
Previous openings in Firhouse in the Republic of Ireland and Birmingam in England took extraordinary, very, very expensive measures to prevent the local community even seeing the ceremony. In Ireland one local lad ran through the security gates for a laugh, an was tackled by a number of hired professional security guards.
These kinds of security measures are not typically seen at the openings of churches which state that they want to serve the community.
What are the Chances of The Org Actually Opening?
It’s an unusual location for an Ideal Org, in an open area with a large ‘village green’ in front, and a small road that provides access to one of the Dockyard gates, running past it.
Scientology takes enormous pains to ensure that the public is excluded from the opening ceremonies and does not interact at all with the press or local people. I’ve seen this during the opening of similar facilities in Firhouse, in Ireland and Birmingham in the UK.
As shown in detail in the posts linked above, Scientology is paranoid on this score.
In Ireland they spent a small fortune attaching particle to railings with plumbing fittings to creates sight screens and closed off a pavement and cycle track with crowd barriers and private secrurity to prevent anyone seeing the ceremony. In Birmingham, they closed the road and parked the long-distance coaches used to bus in the ‘crowd’ for the opening ceremony inches apart to provide a sight screen. They even used umbrellas to stop people looking though the gaps and the coach windows, and turned a stage light on protestors to blind their cameras.
This location might prove to be impossible to close off and sight screen in the way that their leader demands. If the ceremony were to go ahead, it’s unlikely to be on the site. Here it would meet with local opposition, and cound not be secured to the level required by Scientology’s paranoid ‘leader’.
I will soon publish some video, shot a few days ago here, showing the nature of the site and the way in which the building has been allowed to deteriorate over almost a decade of fund-raising efforts.
You can see a slideshow illustrating just how run-down the place presently is in this earlier post.
Be assured, progress will be closely watched.
The only reason to think it might actually go ahead is in the statement in the Herald that, “The Church was also set to coordinate the re-opening of the Royal Fleet Club as a church with the ‘Mayflower 400’ commemorations”. The latter is a year-long commemoration of the departure of the Pilgrim Fathers for the New World. It will beginrun throughout 2020, and this just the kind of ‘theme’ that would appeal to David Miscavige (the ‘leader’ of Scientology) for his opening speech.
These things do not happen for any rational reason. They only require his whim to go ahead.
In Other News…
I’ll add other news coverage here, as it comes in.
One thing that I learned after observing the opening of Birmingham Ideal Org is that, when the UK and internatinal press cover this kind of story, they generally copy the local paper’s coverage, but add something of their own to make their article at least look original an researched. This often works like a game of Chinese whispers, – inaccuracies creep in and grow as other outlets quote articles that have added their spin, and add some more, despite knowing nothing about local conditions.
They have published a neutral and uncritical description of Scientology as part of their article.
The title of their article is “Historic Plymouth building to be converted into South West’s biggest Scientology church”. They evidently didn’t know that the modest shop has been Scientology’s only ‘church’ in the Southwest of England and the new building will likely replace it. They seem to have fallen for Scientology’s spin – calling it the “biggest” suggests that there are others. There aren’t. There never have been.
The Daily Express came along a day or two late, and based their take on quotes from a person who objected to the application on the grounds that it was “inappropriate for the base of a dangerous and highly unethical organisation to be adjacent to a primary school”.
I don’t disagree, but unfortunately the council is limited by the law, which sets out very limited grounds for objection (e.g. parking, or noise). Their hands are tied in this respect. They simply don’t have the power to refuse planning permission to organisations they disapprove of.
The Express also uncritically accepts the sums that Scienotlogy claims it will be spending. I’d like to know how they checked those figures.
The US magazine Newsweek joined in on the 20th of May. The top of the page was occupied by a video about Tom Cruise’s involvement, so we know where their priorities lie.
Their article rather dramatised the situation, presenting the new development as a kind of regional centre and a threat to the community. While I don’t want to underestimate the harm Scientology can do, the Newsweek writers have obviously never been here, nor to other Ideal Orgs in this country, or they would know that they stand empty after their openings.
The title of the article is “British Town Permits Scientology Development Amid Fears the Church Is Trying to ‘Take Over’ the Area”. Plymouth is officially a city, because it has a catherdral. This is why the local council, which granted Scientology permission to renovate is called “Plymouth City Council.” It’s right there in the name. PCC is online, too. There’s no excuse for this.
All these news outlets have somehow managed to shoehorn Tom Cruise into their stories for no discernable reason other than he is a Scientologist.