Scientology plan for Gateshead building approved
A derelict Gateshead nursing home is to become the North East base for the Church of Scientology.
The church, which boasts Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its followers, bought the former Windmill Hills home in 2007 for £1.5m.
It has a site in Sunderland but planned to move out and create a regional hub in the Mulgrave Terrace property.
Gateshead Council has approved plans to extend the Mulgrave Terrace building to include a chapel, cafe and offices.
The Grade II-listed building, which was originally a Victorian day school, has been empty for more than decade and has become a target for vandals.
According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the report to the council said: "A public exhibition space, outlining the public benefit programmes of the church, is also proposed that would be open to the general public during the church opening hours.
"The church proposes to host occasional community events such as family fun days to engage the local community."
'Character and beauty'
The council's planning department recommended approval saying "it is considered that the proposal would not cause harm to the Grade II listed building".
Speaking after the meeting a spokesperson from the Church of Scientology said the organisation would restore the building to its "former character and beauty".
The Supreme Court recognised the Church of Scientology as a religion in a 2013 ruling that paved the way for a couple to get married in one of its chapels in London.
Founded in the 1950s by US science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, Scientology offers believers a life improvement strategy it calls dianetics.
People take courses of dianetics counselling, known as auditing, in the hope of ridding themselves of destructive influences from their current or past lives.
Critics and defectors have accused it of being a cult. They have alleged physical and emotional abuse, brainwashing and unethical fundraising, which the church has always strongly denied.