British Town Permits Scientology Development Amid Fears the Church Is Trying to 'Take Over' the Area

The Church of Scientology appears to have won a battle to open a new center in the southwest of the U.K., despite fears among the local community and former devotees that the organization plans to use the location to "take over" the entire region.

Nine years ago, the controversial church acquired the Royal Fleet Club, a 114-year-old property once owned by the Royal Navy that sits to the west of the town center on the banks of the River Tamar.

Once the deal—worth around $1.27 million, according to Plymouth Live—was completed, the church began preparing for more than $3 million worth of renovations to create a religious center complete with a library, 96-seat chapel, bookstore, lecture rooms, offices, conference facilities, a sauna to be used in "worship rites," residential accommodations and a café.

On Friday, Plymouth City Council gave the church the go-ahead, despite a petition from locals who detailed their concerns. The successful planning application said the work covered "comprehensive repair, refurbishment and change of use of the Royal Fleet Club to enable its conversion to a place of worship and religious instruction."

The application also claimed the church had enjoyed growing popularity in the U.K. in recent years. "The demand for Scientology services has had a steady increase over the last ten years in the U.K. and Internationally," stated the church. "This has included a growing online presence as well as more traditional paper media, including information relating to combating the use of drugs, encouraging human rights awareness, as well as information for schools."

The new center, the organization added, will "cater for residents in Plymouth," but noted that its status as the largest in the region meant "more occasional visits from those outside of Plymouth are likely," including by international visitors.

During the last round of planning applications in 2016, a group called Stop Scientology UK gathered more than 100 signatures from local people opposed to the church's redevelopment of the Royal Fleet Hotel. At a meeting to rally opposition to the project, local resident and former Scientologist William Drummond said that while genuine offers to help improve the local community were welcome, the church could not be trusted.

He suggested the church planned to "indoctrinate the U.K." and explained he had been a member "on and off" for 55 years. "I have a fair idea of what's in store for us," Drummond told fellow residents.

Plymouth Live quoted local woman Sarah Anderson, who signed the petition. "I feel it is inappropriate for the base of a dangerous and highly unethical organization to be adjacent to a primary school," she said.

"Situating the base of a cult in a residential area will increase levels of distress to vulnerable and elderly people living nearby," continued Anderson. "The modus operandi of the organization includes knocking on doors to try and recruit new members, and their tactics when they are turned away can become very forceful. This could cause unnecessary distress to residents in the immediate vicinity."

The Church of Scientology did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

Scientology new building permission Plymouth UK
This file photo shows a new Scientology center pictured on its opening day on October 31, 2015 in Milan, Italy. Awakening/Getty Images