Scientology renews Manchester Ideal Org plans with fresh planning application

The Church of Scientology have submitted new plans in which “it is assumed that the local community would be fully supportive” for its Manchester Ideal Org despite failing to begin works under previously-approved plans for the Grade-II listed building.

The former Duckworth Distillery is considered a heritage building and has stood empty since it was purchased for £3.6 million ($4.5 million USD) for Scientology by millionaire businessman Piers Springthorpe 17 years ago. It is now in a state of disrepair, despite permission being granted for renovation works to begin in 2019.

That permission has now lapsed and a new application was submitted to Trafford Council on 13th June 2024 which lays out a two-phase renovation program, with the first phase aiming to “arrest the decline” by restoring and repairing the exterior of the building.

Photographs of the interior show crumbling paintwork and plaster hanging from the ceilings

As described by local newspaper North West Place, Scientology “first lodged plans to transform the building in 2007” but was later withdrawn. “Planning consent was then secured in 2019, but that permission has now lapsed.”

Journalist Dan Whelan continues, “the Church of Scientology’s most recent application is essentially a resubmission of the 2018 application. It seeks permission to clean up and refurbish the building and transform it into an Ideal Org” 

In a letter provided to the Council by Paul Butler Associates, the consultancy firm representing Scientology says “it is assumed that the local community would be fully supportive of this proposal”, despite the “dilapidated condition” of the building.

The Duckworth Distillery property was built in 1896 and was acquired by Scientology in 2007.

Scientology claim the proposals come with a host of benefits, which are listed in the planning documents as:

  • “The restoration of the Grade II Listed Duckworth’s Essence Factory. The building is in a poor state of repair and requires urgent works in order to ensure further damage is not done.
  • Through the restoration of the Listed Building, the scheme will have a positive impact on the character of the Empress Conservation Area which was placed on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2012.
  • The proposed scheme will be of an extremely high design quality, and will look to restore the fabric and features of the building as far as possible.
  • The proposals will enhance the character of the surrounding streetsc ene in a highly visible location, and will contribute towards the ongoing regeneration of this part of Trafford and encourage further regeneration
  • Securing direct investment into the local community through the creation of jobs during the construction phase of development”

According to the proposals, “the heritage value of the building can be seen to be of a high significance” and it “should not be left in a partially completed state once started.” The building is described as of “national significance” and Scientology’s plans will be a “sensitive restoration of the building” that “guarantee the long-term future of the building, ensuring that the positive contribution it makes to the conservation area is maintained.”

It makes no mention of the rising number of allegations of abuse surrounding the organisation, or its coercive practices that its members claim have resulted in financial ruin and mental distress. The application lays out plans to “reinstate and expose original features and fabric through a sensitive design, and enable restoration and repair works” and claims “works will be undertaken by competent tradesmen with specific experience of dealing with heritage assets”.

However, previous Ideal Org renovations have been completed primarily by untrained and unsupervised Sea Org members – Scientology parishioners who have signed one-billion year contracts to work full time for the Church in return for a weekly stipend of £50 per week.

Photographs submitted by the architects show the building is being used by staff promoting Scientology’s ideal org program
Mouldy bed sheets can be seen in one picture of the building’s interior

The proposals submitted by Scientology include a number of photographs of the building’s interior, which show the dire state in which it currently stands. The property is mostly vacant, however several pictures indicate a small living quarters in the crumbling building and an office decorated with Scientology banners and ‘Ideal Org Program’ material.

In another photo, soap and various toiletries can be seen next to a sink and another room shows a used bed with mouldy sheets.

The building was previously registered under the ‘office / light industrial’ use category, however it has been listed as “vacant” since 2005 and the architect’s June 2024 filings state there are no existing employees on the site.

Speaking to BBC Radio Four in May 2016, Trafford councillor Ejaz Malik said: “We are very much concerned about what is going on in this building, it has been empty for a long, long time now… it is a disgrace to the building and the local community.” 

Scientology have also faced threats of a compulsory purchase orders in the past for failing to renovate the buildings. Trafford councillor David Jarman previously stated he was “in favour of developing these old buildings with character and compulsory purchasing if necessary.”

As one reader put it, “It’s Grade II listed. Renovation standards are high and should be controlled by the planning officer. They can’t just throw free, unskilled Scientology labour at it. So how on earth are they going to pay for it? They haven’t been able to all those years. I hope the council will force them to sell.”

You can view the documents attached to Scientology’s 2024 planning application below.

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Alexander Barnes-Ross

Scientology Business provides analysis and commentary on the Church of Scientology's corporate structure, business operations and functions in the United Kingdom and Europe. The website looks at Scientology's shell companies, financial records and maps the web of international corporate entities responsible for their UK and European activities.

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