In late 2010, the Church of Scientology bought a substantial building that had been specified by the Royal Navy as temporary quarters for visiting Royal Navy personnel and Royal Marines. It consisted of 50+ bedrooms, two ballrooms, kitchens, bars, storage rooms and apartments for two live-in managers and their families. There is a video tour of the exterior here. It was to become the new home of the Church of Scientology in Plymouth.
This was puzzling. The 201l census revealed that there were only 28 Scientologists in the whole of the Southwest of England – the largest catchment area of any UK org. I have independently confirmed that figure in a number of ways. There are certainly fewer than 30 active Scientologists attending the existing org, which struggles to pay the rent on a shop near the city centre.
On the 20th of May 2019, Plymouth Org was granted planning permission by the City Council to renovate the new building and open it as an ‘Ideal Org’. Local Scientologists celebrated with a “Milestone Event” held at a local hotel. Then a specialised company moved in to remove asbestos-containing materials from the structure. These materials include cement wall and ceiling board, internal plaster/wall texturing roofing materials and insulation on hot water systems.
One day, the company signs (including statutory signs warning that the area was an active building site) disappeared, as did some of the heavy equipment being used for asbestos removal. The rest was secured in such a way that it could not be used.
Since then, I have gathered evidence (including three eye-witness accounts) which strongly suggests that the renovation project has at least stalled, and might have been suspended for an indefinite period. Work has certainly (abruptly) stopped.
Details after the break.
Asbestos Decontamination Work Begins
I don’t know the exact dates that all these events took place, but I can be sure of the dates on which I photographed the consequences. Here are images of the plant and equipment used during the active asbestos removal phase. This was all visible outside of the building on the 7th of July 2019.
Equipment included a mobile asbestos tratment facility, a mobile canteen and rest area for the workers, a portable toilet cubicle, skips (aka dumpsters) a portable electricity generator and a vehicle fitted with a shovel for loading non-asbestos building waste for disposal.
Three eye-witnesses have told me that building waste was being thrown from windows into the skip and a substantial crew of approximately 10 workers turned up every morning.
This crew seems to have started making the building safe by isolating the lower left quarter of the bottom floor with plastic sheeting, fitting a ventilation system and then removing the asbestos-containing material in that area.
The image below shows the ventilation system, just inside the main entrance. The area to which the flexible ducting leads is behind plastic sheeting and there is an extractor fan just outside (which I can’t image through several layers of dirty, reflective, glass.
The initial area that the company chose to decontaminate is practically marked out. The windows have been covered on the inside to prevent asbestos -laden dust escaping. You can see the blue tint of the windows at the bottom right in the two windows in the image below.
(As always you can click on any of these high-resolution images to open them in a new tab, where you can zoom in on details).
Also the window at the front which can be seen at the bottom left in the image above.
The plan seems to have been to seal off sections of the interior and decominate the building a little at a time. This is standard operating procedure in these situations. The inital area is less than 20% of one floor, so the process of decontaminating the whole building promised to be a protracted business.
The Work Stops?
On the 17th of July I visited the site to find that the asbestos removal process was underway. The mobile decontamination unit was clearly in active use.
On the 26th of july I revisited the site and took this picture.
The warning and contact signs that had been fastened to the gate had gone. Also the vehicle, the generator and the small skip were no longer on site. All that was left was the portable toilet, the mobile building that provided a rest area and the mobile asbestos treatment unit.
Without the generator, asbestos removal cannot take place. It is required to power water pumps in the decontamination unit, and elsewhere, which spray water to prevent asbestos fibres entering the atmosphere.
In the image below, the decontamination unit is parked up against the building, turned around so that the warning signs are no longer visible.
It’s then that I noticed a parcel delivery firm had called three days previously, on the 23rd of July, and failed to obtain an answer. they had left these postcards wedged in to the main door at the front of the building.
Another Visit to the Org – and Confirmation
I visited the building again on Friday the 9th and 10th of August.
Three eye-witnesses told me that, about four weeks previously (approxmately the 19th of July) the workers had turned up, but could not get past the gates into the site. After some confused ‘phone calls they all left. This occured before my visit on the 26th
Subsequently, several sources have told me that nobody at all has been in or out of the building, and no work has been done. Most of the plant has been removed, and that which is left has not moved of been used. It can’t be safely employed without a generator in any case.
The fact that the warning and contact information signs were taken down from the gate is significant. As I have noted before, these signs are required by law on an active site, and Gilpin Environmental is a respectable local company who obey the law. It’s reasonable to conclude that they consider this site no longer active.
I have also been informed that a van from a hire company has been to the site on several occasions to recover their portable toilet. The driver has not been able to get through the gate or raise any response. High winds have worked the bolt loose, and now the door is flapping about and the cubicle is ‘bleeding’ toilet paper.
Finally, the postcards from the delivery firm wedged in the door on the 23rd of July are still here on the 10th of August – they have not been noticed by the owners of the building for more than 18 days.
There has been heavy weather over the weekend, so they will eventually blow away, but the fact that they have stayed there for so long, in the main entrance door, seems to indicate that no Scientologist from the existing org has been to there for some time.
All the evidence indicates that work has stopped shortly after the project got underway, after completing only a fraction of the that required by the plans.
Reports prepared to support the planning application revealed that asbestos-containg materials were present throughout the building. These must all be removed by a certified company before any other work (which might disturb those materials and release asbestos fibres into the atmosphere) can take place.
It’s possible that asbestos containing materials were confined to a small part of the building have now been removed and serious work can now commence. However, this is unlikely. Abestos was added to many building materias during the period this place was built – it was in the cement wall and ceiling board, roofing materials, render, and even textured paint. If one part of the building was contaminated in this way, it would be everywhere.
It’s not likely that the local Church of Scientology has messed up, either. Their organisation is dysfunctional, to say the least, but this project is being handled by head office.
Previous experience in the UK (e.g. Birmingham Ideal Org) suggests that, once they get the go-ahead, they burn through money, employing professional building contractors to complete the job to a tight deadline. They can’t get away with using Sea Org personnel to do the donkey work or renovations here. There are strictly enforced regulations (including inspections) relating to building standards and health and safety. The presence of asbestos it take much more seriously. They would not get away with doing their own work on this building and, if they tried, would be cleared out and prosecuted.
The Church of Scientology have planning permission and plenty of money. There is nothing to hold them back. However the work appears to have stalled. This is very much out of character. There is a possible explanation – but that’s another story which I will cover in a future post.
In the meantime I will keep an eye on ‘progress’. I may be wrong, but I think that, in this case, no news may be good news.