Prince of Wales places faith in church centre

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A City high-flyer's dream of creating a pounds 120m Christian centre in London for the millennium will move closer towards becoming reality next month.

The Millennium Commission is due to decide whether to back the vision held by Ken Costa, a merchant banker, of a "thriving, ecumenical Christian community" on the south bank of the Thames.

The project is backed by the Prince of Wales. Having called for a more spiritual approach to the millennium celebrations, the Prince is understood to see the potential union in the scheme of two of his greatest interests - spiritual exploration and architecture.

The scheme would transform a nine-acre site near Battersea power station into a giant "village" featuring a 10,000-seat church, a base for charities working with the poor, sick and disadvantaged and short-stay accommodation for young people.

The USIT youth and student travel company would use the budget hotel and has pledged pounds 50m to match pounds 50m requested from the Millennium Commission. If the commission gives its backing, a planning application would be presented within months. Mr Costa and his church, the Holy Trinity Brompton in Knightsbridge, west London, is preparing to place an option to secure the nine-acre site by the end of January.

It is confident of raising the remaining pounds 20m needed from corporate and private sponsors.

Mark Elsdon-Dew, the project spokesman, said yesterday: "We're very excited by it. We want it to be the kind of place which people in London can be proud of."

Ken Costa, 46, vice-chairman of merchant bankers SBC Warburg, and a church warden and lay preacher at Holy Trinity Brompton, the largest Anglican church in Britain, has harboured a vision of such a centre for some time, Mr Elsdon-Dew said.

But it is only in the last year that feasibility studies and plans have been drawn up and a charitable trust, Millennium Village, formed to spearhead development. Mr Costa, who has provided significant financial support, is its chairman.

The influential vicar of Holy Trinity, the Rev Sandy Millar, has secured extensive church backing. The Archbishop of Canterbury, other leading Anglican churchmen, the Baptist and Methodist churches and Cardinal Basil Hume, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, have all expressed keen interest.

Prince Charles' office, which is acting as consultant to the plan, said: "The Prince welcomes the idea of building an ecumenical Christian centre ... to coincide with the beginning of the third millennium."

Mr Costa said: "Millennium Village is a national celebration of the Christian millennium, demonstrating the links between belief and social action in the community.

"We are also delighted to be working with the Prince of Wales's projects office to ensure that Millennium Village expresses architecturally this exciting vision of unity and reconciliation in the nation."