The Synod of the diocese of Christchurch will consider donating its earthquake-ravaged cathedral to the country’s government as a gift to the people of New Zealand. This new option will go alongside two existing options – to reinstate the existing cathedral or to demolish and replace it with a modern building – when the Synod meets to decide the building’s future on the last day of its three-day meeting next month (7-9 September).
The iconic cathedral occupies a prime site in a major square in the city. But it has stood derelict since the 2011 earthquake because a local heritage group, the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust, has consistently challenged the diocese’s plans to demolish the cathedral and replace it with a modern purpose-built building. The cathedral’s worship has been taking place in a temporary “cardboard cathedral”.
The diocese won the legal challenges and engaged in consultations and discussions with government officials to find an agreeable solution. After the talks broke down, the diocese decided that the final decision should be taken by the Synod next month.
The Synod was to have been asked to decide between two options.
Option A would see the former building re-instated. It would be part-funded by a $10 million (NZD - approximately £5.6 m GBP) grant and $15 million loan from the New Zealand Government; a pledge of $13.7 million from the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust; a potential loan from Christchurch City Council; and additional fund-raising. This option would proceed in three stages, each of which would only commence once the funding for that stage is in place. The proposal would require the government to enact legislation “to streamline project consenting and approval processes,” the diocese said.
Option B would see “an inspiring highly functional new cathedral” built on the site of the existing building. This would be funded by the $42 million available as a result of the cathedral’s insurance.
If the Synod chooses the new option, Option C, it will direct the Church Property Trustees (CPT), which owns the church’s buildings on behalf of the dioceses, “to enter into negotiations with the Government for the gifting of the Christchurch Cathedral building in the square to the people of New Zealand,” the diocese said in a statement. “CPT would share its extensive knowledge and experience of the building to assist the Government in its reinstatement. The diocese would seek permission to use the building for large services such as Easter and Christmas as part of any agreement.”
Announcing the new option, the Bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews, said: “We love and have always loved the cathedral building in the square and we do hear the passion of the people about this great heritage building.
“Our concern with CPT committing to full reinstatement has always been about the risk of the cost going over what we are able to commit to the reinstatement. For example, if the damage is worse than anticipated, or there is a fundraising shortfall, we would be in serious trouble even with the generous Government offer. We need to be good stewards.
“By gifting the cathedral building to the government, it would be reinstated to its former glory and managed by them on behalf of all New Zealanders for use as a public space. I am not saying that will happen but it is a possibility I think we need to put before the Synod.”
Bishop Victoria continued: “In less than a month, the decision about the future of the cathedral building in the square will be made. To those who say it has taken far too long, the church agrees, but in fact we have had to spend time in the courts and have experienced other delays such as the government’s offer of assistance. Those two factors together added months and even years to the diocese’s ability to make our decision.
“It is my hope, prayer and expectation that the best possible decision will be made by our Synod, so the city can progress its recovery and the diocese’s vibrant mission and ministry in the name of Jesus Christ can flourish and grow.”