A HUGE new Gospel Hall for members of a secretive Christian sect got the go-ahead on Wednesday night.

The development at Shinfield Court near Three Mile Cross will see existing buildings demolished and a new 13,500 sq ft Hall built by the Brethren, an evangelical group that shuns technology and the modern world.

They have held meetings in Reading since 1840, when they met in a hall where the Queens Road multi-storey car park now stands. They say their current Redlands Road headquarters is inadequate, and they have spent years looking for a new site for a main hall.

The sect already has a small meeting place in Hollow Lane, Shinfield, and many of its members have moved into the parish. Others have said they will move there if the new hall is built.

Some residents object to the hall because it will be exclusively for its own members, and ward councillor Barrie Patman said: "The Brethren are perfectly entitled to their views, but it does concern me that such a large building will not be available to all."

But the Brethren's Reading Gospel Hall Trust (RGHT) said in a statement supporting the application: "This would be totally unacceptable - the Brethren regard their Gospel Halls and grounds as sacred.

"It is only by reserving the Hall for its intended use that we can ensure that nuisance to neighbours does not arise; for example, Brethren meetings do not involve instrumental music, radio, attendance by motorbike, consumption of alcoholic drinks or late night usage."

There are about 16,000 UK Brethren members, but they are better known in Australia where new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has denounced them as "an extremist cult and sect [who] break up families".

If approved, the new hall will have 94 parking spaces, as well as five for disabled users and eight for minibuses.

Shinfield Parish Council planning chairman John Heggadon said: "We're aware that their members have been moving into the area in anticipation of getting the facility. It looks likely to be a gathering point with members coming from all over the Thames Valley, further afield than Reading certainly - being near the motorway junction will help there."

Wokingham Borough Council planners approved the hall, on condition that the RGHT builds replacement roosts for the bats living in the old buildings marked for demolition and contributes £7,000 towards pavement and parking improvements. They also want to see a flat provided for a caretaker.

Council spokesman David Allen said planning approval did not mean the authority endorsed the group.

He said: "The planning committee can only consider matters covered by planning legislation. These do not include any matters covered by other laws, nor do they include any matter relating to the identity or background of the proposed developer."

Nobody at the RGHT returned calls.