Locals oppose proposed Brethren church

AAP, Australia/March 17, 2010

The secretive religious sect Exclusive Brethren has proposed a rural site on the NSW Central Coast for its newest 800-seat church, but locals are against the plan.

Residents in Lisarow, north of Gosford, have organised a public meeting for Saturday against the proposed development.

The group, Lisarow Residents Against Inappropriate Development (RAID), says the Brethren proposal will cause traffic upheaval to MacDonalds Road, the only access to the site.

MacDonalds Road joins a windy road before connecting to the Pacific Highway.

"During peak hour, it's absolutely at a standstill now to get out of our road," RAID spokeswoman Jill Maclean told AAP on Wednesday.

About 50 people live in the surrounding area, with the proposed site near housing estates.

Ms Maclean said the 6.5-hectare property would include a car park which would be on a flood plain and near a creek.

"Our opposition to this is against the development, not against the Brethren," she said.

"I know people call them a cult and they are critical of them but that isn't our position. It isn't Brethren bashing."

The Brethren has submitted its development application to Gosford City Council with public submissions due by March 26.

Gosford mayor Chris Holstein said he expected the application to come before council for a vote in either May or June.

He said he had concerns over supporting infrastructure, such as sewerage, but his main issue was the effect on traffic conditions.

"It's one of those little country lanes," Mr Holstein told AAP.

"That's something that I know will weigh heavily on some of the councillors and their considerations."

John Kennard spent the first 23 years of his life as a Brethren member before leaving around 25 years ago.

He said he knew his departure meant never speaking again to his family who remain as Brethren members, as dictated by Brethren code.

"They've got a very apocalyptic (or `bunker') mentality," Mr Kennard told AAP.

"`The world's going to end tomorrow but you stick with us and you'll be right'.

"And when they develop a bunker mentality, invariably they start to build things that look like bunkers as well."

Mr Kennard said he expected the proposed Lisarow church to have no windows and to have a heavily fortified perimeter similar to the Brethren's church at Orange, where he lives.

"It's in a residential area, it's got a 10-foot chain-wire fence around the outside and it's locked and bolted up like Fort Knox," he said.

RAID plans to hold its protest meeting at 10am (AEDT) on Saturday on the corner of The Ridgeway and MacDonalds Road.

A Brethren representative in Lisarow did not return calls from AAP seeking comment.

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