A Weymouth church that was destroyed by fire four years ago has been put up for sale.

Maiden Street Methodist Church will go on the market later this week with major developers expected to turn the site into luxury flats, restaurants, offices or possibly even a nightclub.

The Grade II* listed building was gutted by fire in January 2002 and the Methodists have decided to sell the freehold and move to a new purpose-built building in Melcombe Avenue.

The building is of such architectural importance that conservation chiefs have demanded the buyer maintain the external walls and rebuild the ornate rose window which spectacularly exploded on the night of the fire.

Church minister, the Reverend Les Judd, said the cost of restoring the building was too much for the church and the congregation was content to move to another site.

"The building restrictions made moving back to the site a difficult proposition and many of the congregation have felt for some time it was time to move to a new purpose-built building.

"The congregation suffered a great deal because of the fire and agonised over how to deal with it. There is a lot of personal history tied up in the building and its going to be hard for a lot of people to let go. Nevertheless there is the possibility of going to a modern building and renewing our mission."

Mr Judd said he expected the site to be sold to major developers with the money to transform it into a mix of retail and apartment units.

Lucrative "It is going to cost a bit of money because the internal structure will have to be hung on a new frame. I can see possibly a restaurant on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors. Some people have suggested a museum on the ground floor others have mentioned offices, but we'll have to wait and see."

The church was built in 1870 with later extensions in 1955. It stands less than 100 metres from Weymouth Harbour making it a potentially lucrative development site.

The sale will be conducted under the 1993 Charities Act, which stipulates the church must sell to the bidder offering best value'.

In practice this means the highest bidder will be chosen by the church trustees providing the bid stands a reasonable chance of gaining planning permission.

Colin Ellis, conservation officer for Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, said: "This building is a starred Grade II, which makes it of significant architectural interest.

"We have asked that the rose window which faced down St Edmund Street to be put back as this is an architectural set-piece.

"What would be ideal would be a mix of uses. We are not keen on making more holes in the external walls of the building so would be against car parking on the ground floor."

The sale is being handled by Bath-based estate agents King Sturge, which says the property offers "an exciting development opportunity to provide a high quality landmark building with the potential for residential, leisure, retail and other community uses The building will be advertised in the trade press for the first time on Saturday. (mar 25) Bids for the property must be tendered by June 7 with a decision on the sale expected soon after.