Christian sect could occupy former pit village

The Northern Echo, UK/February 14, 2011

A strict Christian sect could win planning permission for a gospel hall in a former pit village despite residents' opposition.

The Exclusive Brethren wants to convert stables and a workshop on land in Waldridge Lane, Chester Moor, near Chester-le-Street, County Durham.

The evangelical sect, which has members worldwide, is said to frown on listening to music or watching TV and members lead family-centred lives separate from non-believers.

But in 2007 former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he believed The Brethren was "an extremist cult and sect"

The application was lodged with Durham County Council by the Springwell Gospel Hall Trust.

It attracted 30 letters of objection from villagers whose concerns include disturbance from traffic, particularly at 6am on Sunday mornings Objectors say there is already disturbance from the RSPCA cat rescue centre nearby and that increased traffic could threaten road safety.

A report to councillors says objectors also fear ""the group will have no interaction with existing residents of the village potentially dividing the community particularly if properties are bought in the village", There are also concerns about the impact on views and on property prices.

The Trust says in a statement to the council The Brethren have been searching for a venue for 14 years.

"The Gospel Hall will be used by the Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship and will be mainly attended by communicants who live within the Chester-le-Street Area, at present this compromises nine households.

"The hall will be used through the day on Sunday, with prayer and Bible meetings generally on a Monday and Friday afternoon.

"No musical instruments, amplified or otherwise, are used during services and all singing will be done by purely human voice.

"The Brethren always attend meetings in family units, as a result the use of family cars ensure that the numbers of vehicles accessing the site will be kept to a minimum.

"They do not wish to be a cause of any annoyance or disturbance to the neighbours and are committed to being considerate neighbours."

The statement adds that the Brethren "are well known for their generosity in contributing and helping in disasters in various countries"

Durham County Council's north area planning committee will be recommended on Thursday to grant permission.

A report by planning officer Steven Pilkington says the objections have been given "due weight".

But on balance officials consider "a loss of residential amenity would not arise."

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