Churches eye new Portsmouth site as they reveal merger plan details

PROPOSALS The Rev Alex Hughes, left, and The Rev Mark Model at the possible site of their planned combined church.     Picture: Ian Hargreaves (112314-1)
PROPOSALS The Rev Alex Hughes, left, and The Rev Mark Model at the possible site of their planned combined church. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (112314-1)

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CHURCH leaders have revealed their decision to build a new ‘landmark’ place of worship in Portsmouth’s city centre.

The proposed development will replace St Peter’s and St Luke’s churches, in Somers Town and Southsea, bringing together their two congregations in a modern building.

It is an attempt to raise the Church of England’s profile in the city and save money that would be spent on refurbishing the two older churches.

The vicar of St Peter’s and St Luke’s, the Rev Alex Hughes, said: ‘It’s taken us 18 months of careful thinking to get to this point, so this isn’t a decision that we’ve taken lightly. But I’m pleased that these two parishes have been willing to think so creatively about the future.

‘Our primary goal is to renew the mission of the church in this area. As things were, much of our energy, time and money was being poured into the maintenance of two buildings.

‘A new church in a high-profile position will help us to serve those who live, work and visit our city centre much more effectively.’

One possible site for the new church is land reclaimed by the Somers Town Regeneration Project at the junction of Winston Churchill Avenue and Isambard Brunel Road.

But the leader of Portsmouth City Council, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said that if it comes up for sale, the church will have to bid for the land just like anyone else.

He said: ‘The city council has not decided to sell the land to anybody. If we do, we would sell it to get the best value.

‘We are not going to give it away. We have a duty to get the best price out of any public asset we sell.

‘We will work with the church and the theatre to try to make sure that everybody has the facilities they want in an affordable way.’

The announcement has caused concern for those fighting to save St Peter’s Theatre – which is housed above St Peter’s Church – who worry the unique venue will be lost.

But Mr Hughes said the new building would have enough space to suit a wide range of community groups.

He said: ‘Although some of its facilities have been updated recently, it’s well known that it requires considerable investment to bring it up to 21st century standards. We’re hoping to create spaces in any new building that will be flexible enough for those involved in the theatre scene to use.’

But the chairman of Portsmouth Cultural Partnership, Steve Pitt, said: ‘We need to make sure we don’t toss aside a community theatre like this carelessly. Every possibility for retaining the facilities provided there should be explored.’

Community and theatre groups using both churches have been reassured that they can book rooms until the end of 2012.