THE Church of Scientology– which counts Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its followers– is set to establish a North East base in a former nursing home after plans were given the go-ahead.

A report, heard by Gateshead Council’s planning and development committee yesterday, said the organisation has recently opened a number of churches throughout the UK to create regional hubs for its members.

The former Windmill Hills nursing home has lain empty for more than a decade, after being bought by the church in 2007 for a reported £1.5m.

If the organisation goes ahead it will move out of its current premises in Sunderland, into the Mulgrave Terrace property which will become its hub for the region.

The  scheme was decided in two parts, the first dealt with whether to allow the former nursing home to be converted to a place of worship.The committee also considered had to decide whether to give listed building consent for the planned renovation works which includes refurbishment of the Victorian building, underpinning and  putting up two single extensions to form a chapel and a cafe.

Gateshead Council’s planning committee voted through both parts of the application without comment.

As well as weekly Sunday services, members of the church can visit the building during the week for “religious study and take part in the church auditing’ sessions, spiritual exercises as part of a group or one to one”.

Once completed the Grade II listed premises will have a chapel, academy, offices, auditing rooms, conference rooms, storage and a café which would be open to its members and the public.

The report to 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.”

The council’s planning department has recommended approval for the scheme 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.”

He said: “We are delighted that the planning applications were approved so we can move forward on renovating the historic Windmill Hills and restoring it to its former character and beauty.

"We very much look forward to opening our Church of Scientology there and working with the local community.”

The Church of Scientology teaches that people are immortal beings who have forgotten their true nature and offers believers a life improvement strategy it calls dianetics.