Scientology's $12m renovation rescue for Sydney HQ

The Sunday Telegraph/May 31, 2009

The Church of Scientology plans to spend $12 million upgrading its Sydney headquarters, but faces a ban on trawling the street outside the building for new recruits. The group's controversial plans include building an extra level on its Castlereagh St premises, and renovating the facade of the heritage building.

Neighbours and businesses have objected to the proposed upgrade at Scientology House, citing aggressive recruitment tactics, nuisance, loss of view, extra pollution and heritage concerns, The Sunday Telegraph reports.

City of Sydney councillors will vote on the development tomorrow night, six months after the application was first lodged.

Under conditions that would be imposed as part of the DA, the church - known for its recruitment drives using "personality tests" - will be banned from spruiking, using speakers, music or announcements outside the building.

The group originally sought to add three levels to its building, but the proposal was amended to add one-and-a-half storeys.

Fifty-nine objections were received. There were 33 submissions in support.

Scientology spokeswoman Vicki Dunstan said the organisation has more than 240,000 members in Australia with numbers growing.

But the 2006 Census identified only 2507 Scientologists.

"The renovation and refurbishment will make the parishioners feel more comfortable, and we'll also have better facilities for events, improve the chapel and of course it will deal somewhat with the expansion (in members)," she said.

While Scientology has expanded in Australia, its legal status has been challenged in Germany. French authorities have accused the group of manipulating followers into handing over their savings.

Scientology counts Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its followers. High-profile Australian member, James Packer, reportedly left the group last year. His former wife, Jodhi Meares, and singer Kate Ceberano are fans.

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