Decision on future of Christchurch Cathedral delayed
[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The future of the partially-demolished earthquake-ravaged cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, remains uncertain after an expected pre-Christmas announcement was delayed. Cathedral and diocesan officials had wanted to demolish the remains of the building, which was severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake, and build a new cathedral. But a series of legal and political challenges followed from opponents who are pushing for the previous building to be effectively restored.
In January, a New Zealand government-appointed mediator, Miriam Dean QC, said that restoration work could lead to a new building which was “indistinguishable” from the one that was all-but destroyed by the earthquake. But she said that the “costly and risky project” would be significantly more expensive and take much longer to build than a contemporary replacement.
The cost of reinstatement had been estimated at $105 million New Zealand Dollars (approximately £58.9 million GBP), with work set to take six or seven years. In contrast, the cost of building a completely new cathedral has been estimated at costing up to $66 million New Zealand Dollars (approximately £37 million GBP).
Following the release of Dean report, confidential talks took place between government officials and the Church Property Trustees; leading to the creation of a Cathedral Working Group in June “to investigate whether the issues of cost and safety outlined in the report are able to be addressed in order to reinstate Christchurch Cathedral as it appeared prior to the earthquakes.”
The working group presented “non-binding” proposals to the government and church officials last month and a public announcement about the future was expected before Christmas.
“We came so close and I will always be deeply grateful for the sacrificial contribution of the Cathedral Working Group, which was Government appointed; the staff of Church Property Trustees and the Church Property Trustees themselves,” Bishop Victoria Matthews said in a Christmas message to her diocese. “. . . In a sentence: we almost got there, and earlier this week we did think we had arrived.
“We will now have a break over Christmas and decide where and how to proceed in the later part of January. Please pray for all involved in this matter thus far.”
In a joint statement with the Church Property Trustees, Bishop Matthews said that she was “greatly saddened” that “the much-anticipated announcement on the future of the reinstatement of the damaged Christchurch Cathedral will not go ahead before Christmas, as hoped.”
The statement said that Bishop Matthews “said 48 hours ago [that] she and Church Property Trustees were sure there would be a positive announcement in this week before Christmas.”
Bishop Matthews said: “The Trustees will keep working towards a resolution in the new year. I can assure people that there will be a Cathedral in the Square at the heart of our city.
Since August 2013, the cathedral congregation have been worshipping in an award-winning pioneering “cardboard cathedral”.
As this is my private blog – not in any way connected with decisions to be made by either the Christchurch Anglican Diocese or the Government-Appointed Commission that looked into the feasibility of a complete re-build of the original building – I can state my own opinion of what I think has delayed any resolution of the current situation. I really believe that the delay in getting on with the project – a matter of six years after the first earthquake damage – is entirely the fault of interference by the local conservationist organisation (GCBT) which has used legal tactics to try to prevent the Christchurch Diocese from following its agreed plan of action to build a brand-new Cathedral on this valuable inner city site.
Despite the fact that the original building was considered by the Diocese and the Board of trustees to be beyond saving, and was actually deconsecrated in the expectation of being demolished at the earliest opportunity; the Greater Christchurch Buildings trust (GCBT) – which has no connection with the Church Property Trustees – decided to take out an injunction against the Cathedral owners (CPT) to prevent the demolition and the planned building of a new, modern building fit for purpose. This injunction was denied, despite a further appeal by GCBT, which has now resulted in a stand-off necessitating mediation by a Government-appointed Mediator.
The Mediator has since met with the Diocesan Bishop and Board of Trustees (owners of the Cathedral), but, despite a promise of resolution before Christmas; this has not produced any positive result.
My own presumption is that this is the direct fault of the Greater Christchurch Building Trust’s continuing opposition to the original intention of the Diocese to erect a brand new modern building that would be more cost effective than the complete restoration that is still being insisted upon by the non-diocesan, non-Anglican, GCBT.
It seems to me that the owners of the derelict building – The Church Property Trustees (CPT), who will be responsible for the major costs associated with the building of a Cathedral in the Square – and who had already reached a majority decision on how best to meet the circumstances of the most appropriate replacement building – ought to be given the prior right to determine the best outcome that will satisfy the Anglican Church, which owns both the site and the building. I hope that natural justice will prevail!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand