The property division of the New Zealand Diocese of Christchurch has defended itself over allegations that it has dragged its feet over the future of the iconic cathedral, which was all-but destroyed in the 2011 earthquake. The Church Property Trustees (CPT), which has responsibility for 280 church and commercial properties on behalf of the diocese, hit out after Philip Burdon used an opinion piece in the city’s The Press newspaper to claim that the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust (GCBT) had been “the victims of sham negotiations”.
The GCBT has been arguing for renovation and reconstruction of the existing building; but this would cost considerably more than the CPT’s preferred option of demolition and new-build. Exercising his right to reply in the same newspaper, the CPT’s general manager Gavin Holley, outlined the history of the long story.
He explained that the CPT made an early decision to build a new contemporary cathedral in the Square, on the site of the existing building; but that this had been subject to a legal challenge by the GCBT. “The decision had been based on numerous engineering, costing, risk and other professional evaluations for which CPT sought advice for different options,” he said.
In June 2014, the CPT defeated the GCBT’s High Court challenge after three years of litigation and was in a position to begin work on the new building, subject to obtaining the usual consents. But it halted the process to engage in further talks with the GCBT and the government.
An agreement involving a “funding and delivery” agreement with the government was due to be announced before Christmas last year. But this was put off after a change of government resulted in the offer being changed to a “statement of principles” involving a $10m NZD (approximately £5.6m GBP) Crown grant and a loan of $15m towards reinstatement.
“CPT has clearly said that to leave a Bishop and Diocese with a $15m loan is unacceptable,” Holley said in the newspaper article. This scheme would also leave the diocese with a $56m shortfall in funding.
“The policy being followed for all of the buildings in Trust with CPT is that the money must be in hand before the repair or build begins,” he said. “Some people have argued that CPT has the means to fund the shortfall and fund the insurance and running costs of the reinstated Cathedral.
“But, CPT simply cannot do this as it holds no assets in its own right. It holds the assets in trust for the Diocesan and parish mission and ministry – and must ensure that any potential reinstatement does not weaken the wider mission of the church.”
He said that the CPT has commissioned a new community survey by an independent research firm and “anticipates soon being able to give the government an answer to its offer.”