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The earthquake-damaged ChristChurch Cathedral – Photo courtesy of Christchurch City Council

Crown and city council combine to support cathedral rebuild

Grants from the Christchurch City Council and the NZ government to help reinstate the earthquake-damaged ChristChurch Cathedral are hoped to be the circuit-breaker needed to get things moving.

Minister supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration, Nicky Wagner, and Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel have presented a new offer to Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews, which is hoped will provide an agreed solution to reinstate the ChristChurch Cathedral, which has been left in disrepair since the 2011 earthquake.

“The cathedral sits at the very heart of Christchurch – it’s the city’s namesake, an icon, a place of worship, a community facility, a tourist attraction and a beloved heritage building,” Ms Wagner says. “This offer builds on the cathedral working group recommendation report, released in June, which recommended reinstatement at an estimated cost of $104 million.”

Special legislation

The offer includes a Crown cash contribution of $10 million and a Crown-funded interest-free suspensory loan of $15 million (repayment of the loan will be suspended and forgiven if the loan conditions are fulfilled), a Christchurch City Council grant of $10 million (subject to public consultation) and a Great Christchurch Buildings Trust pledge of $13.7 million.

Special legislation to streamline and fast-track project consenting and approval processes will be used, and a joint venture between the church property trust and an independent fundraising trust will govern and manage the project.

“All up, with contributions from the NZ government, the city council, and the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust, as well as the church’s insurance proceeds of $42 million, we will have about $90 million – enough to complete the cathedral and ancillary buildings,” Ms Wagner says.

Certainty and action

Mayor Lianne Dalziel says the city council unanimously approved the grant as the people of Christchurch want certainty and action about the cathedral. “There was one message that dominated in the opinion poll commissioned by the Anglican Church about the future of the cathedral. Make a decision now. People just want action,” she says. 

“When Bishop Victoria Matthews announced that the Anglican synod would make the decision between reinstatement or full demolition and replacement, the council needed to act. If the synod decides to demolish the cathedral, the inevitable legal proceedings will mean more uncertainty for years to come.”

Ms Wagner says that while the government contribution is a significant amount of money, there is a need to balance the property rights of the church with the historical value of the building and the need to break the current deadlock of indecision.

“About half of Christchurch wants to see the cathedral reinstated, the other half wants a modernised version or a contemporary new build, but really, everyone just needs a decision. It’s time to move forward, and I think this is our best option,” she says.

Contribution to the city’s recovery

Ms Dalziel says that while the grant is recognition of the cathedral’s heritage status and its important contribution to civic life and the Christchurch visitor experience, it is in fact the desire for certainty about the future of Cathedral Square and what it means for the city’s recovery that is driving the council’s wish to see a final decision made that is not subject to litigation.

“The NZ government’s proposal to legislate, backed by other political parties, gives us the certainty we need to move on,” she adds. “The government has worked hard to develop an offer which should give the Anglican synod the confidence to make a decision that will not lead to costly and lengthy legal proceedings. It’s a circuit-breaker.”

Bishop Matthews is due to take the offer to the Anglican synod, a 225-member governing body of elected parishioners and priests, in September, which will decide whether to accept the offer.

At the time of NZCN going to print, the Anglican Church announced a third option would be on the table for the synod to discuss in September – they will also consider handing over ownership of the cathedral to the Crown, which Nicky Wagner says the government will not rule out as an alternative solution.

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