Bitter row over Christ Church Cathedral plan

16:00, Nov 21 2011
Christ Church Cathedral
BITTER ROW: Christ Church Cathedral

Private emails have exposed a bitter row over the future of Christ Church Cathedral.

Hundreds of pages of documents released under the Official Information Act detail a fight between the Christchurch City Council and cathedral leaders over the future of the quake-damaged building.

The internal emails, minutes and reports reveal cathedral efforts to keep plans secret, accusations of "betrayal" and a complete breakdown of trust between the two parties.

The documents also show:

Council alarm at the prospect of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) involvement.

Cera's refusal to share documents on the cathedral.

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The council accusing Cera staff of "childish behaviour".

Council staff asked mayor Bob Parker to intervene.

The documents were released in response to an Official Information Act request by Christchurch Central MP Brendon Burns.

Cera issued cathedral leaders with a section 38 notice on October 28, which gave them 10 days to advise the authority of their plans to make the building safe.

The cathedral's plans, submitted on November 8, have not been made public.

Before the notice was issued a working group of council, cathedral, Cera, Historic Places Trust and Culture and Heritage Ministry representatives was established to discuss make-safe plans for the building.

The dispute was sparked by a council letter tabled at a working group meeting on October 18, which raised concerns that the process was moving too fast and would not produce the best result.

Cathedral leaders were unhappy with the letter as it could be made public, meeting notes taken by council heritage response team leader Philip Barrett show.

"[Cathedral project management company] RCP disappointed with CCC letter, particularly given Cera is currently subject to an OIA request and the letter is discoverable and did not want it tabled ... would have preferred phone call/verbal communication."

The paper trail reveals the cathedral's project manager, RCP's Marcus Read, made repeated efforts to force the council to withdraw the letter.

He threatened to exclude council staff from future meetings and write to the council chief executive Tony Marryatt with his concerns.

Barrett's notes from a meeting on October 27 show concerns over the letter were raised again.

"I was told that the CPT [Cathedral Property Trust] felt betrayed; that if not withdrawn the Bishop [Victoria Matthews] would write to CCC CEO and mayor."

Council staff were then excluded from the process.

Council staff member Fiona Wykes emailed colleagues on October 27. "Apparently Cera engineers are being extremely coy about their report and are not at all happy about sharing ... I'm getting tired of all the childish behaviour."

In an email to a consultant on November 1, Wykes said council staff were still in the dark.

"We are still trying to ascertain what option the church actually chose, but last we heard they were refusing to tell us. Cera have also been reluctant to share their file with us," she wrote.

The Press