Chelsea challenge to orthodox development

A thriving Orthodox Christian congregation in South London has expressed strong interest in taking over the long empty Guards Chapel at Chelsea Barracks. The chapel, which developers are seeking to demolish to make way for a large complex of luxury flats and affordable homes, has been recommended for listing by English Heritage. After fierce local opposition, the proposals, drawn up by the practice of Lord Rogers, have been slightly reduced in scale by the developers Candy and Candy who are working for the Emir of Qatar, who acquired the site for £959 million. They plan to replace the demolished 1960s barracks with sleek rows of identical apartment blocks enlivened by the glazed external lifts and stairs which are the signature of many Rogers buildings.

The South London Orthodox community currently shares St Peter's Anglican church in Clapham. Giles Milton, a trustee, says: "It is very difficult to acquire churches in London. This is the perfect location for us, close to bus routes and Victoria station. With our own church we could hold more services. The architecture, being Romanesque, is also much more suitable to Orthodox worship than a Victorian Gothic church. Though it has not been used for some time, the church is in reasonable condition." He said: "We have a charitable trust, some funds and huge support in our community. We have been looking for over five years for our own building. It will be a tragedy if it is demolished."

The church occupies one corner on the site of the 13.8-acre site, which has a long frontage to Chelsea Bridge Road. Recently the Prince of Wales provoked controversy by inviting the well-known classical architect Quinlan Terry to draw up an alternative to the modernist scheme proposed by the Candy brothers for Qatari Diar, the property arm of the Qatari Royal Family. The Orthodox congregation has an average Sunday attendance of 80, with a wide mix of nationalities - American, British, Bulgarian, Canadian, Cypriot, Dutch, Finnish, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Irish, Lebanese, New Zealand, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, South African and Ukrainian. The services are celebrated mainly in English, with some prayers in Slavonic and Greek. With its own church the congregation is expected to expand rapidly.

The chapel, built in 1859, is all that remains of the Victorian barracks built after the Crimean War. Barbara Follett, the Culture Minister, will take the decision on listing.