Government, church at odds over offer to restore Christ Church Cathedral

JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF.CO.NZ

Victoria Matthews, Bishop of Christchurch and church members issue a statement regarding the replacement or repair of the Christchurch Cathedral to members of the public and media in front of the Cathedral in the Square.

The Anglican Church and the Government appear to be at loggerheads over whether an offer has been made to help restore the "eyesore" Christ Church Cathedral.

Sunday's press conference by Bishop Victoria Matthews was the latest twist in the cathedral saga which, just days before the sixth anniversary of the February 2011 earthquake, is unresolved.

Church leaders and the Government are both claiming they have done all they can to break the deadlock.

Victoria Matthews, Bishop of Christchurch, and Moka Ritchie, a trustee of Church Property Trustees, photographed on Sunday.
JOSPEH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Victoria Matthews, Bishop of Christchurch, and Moka Ritchie, a trustee of Church Property Trustees, photographed on Sunday.

In December, Stuff reported the Government and Anglican property trustees were unable to agree on the terms of a deal that would see the cathedral in central Christchurch restored.

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Anglican Bishop returns to NZ to consider cathedral plans - sources

On Friday, Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Gerry Brownlee said he was "surprised and disappointed" no restoration deal had been made for the earthquake-damaged cathedral. 

Gerry Brownlee has been handed the foreign minister's job vacated by Murray McCully.
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Gerry Brownlee has been handed the foreign minister's job vacated by Murray McCully.

The Government, he said, offered $10m in cash and a $15m loan to help restore the building.

But the Church Property Trustees (CPT) maintains no binding offer was received.

"CPT reached an agreement with mandated Crown negotiators including the Christchurch working group chairman Geoff Dangerfield . . . before Christmas," Matthews said on Sunday.

The Christ Church Cathedral sits decaying in the city centre.
IAIN McGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

The Christ Church Cathedral sits decaying in the city centre.

"That agreement, to CPT's surprise, proved not acceptable to the minister and at the last minute a two page, non-binding, principles document was sent through to the negotiating table.

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"This two page statement of principles significantly changed the terms in ways that were not acceptable to CPT as prudent trustees, with $42 million to put towards an over $100 million project."

Since then there had been "very limited informal discussion".

"A revised two page statement of principles, which is non-binding and which I believe has not been seen by Cabinet, arrived this week.

"But it was not presented by the Minister, nor did we have assurance he was in favour of every aspect of it," Matthews said.

She then called the cathedral an "eyesore" and "icon" in Christchurch.

"[It] is not standing as it is today because the church doesn't care. We've tried every which way from Sunday to either have it deconstructed to sill level, or to get help to reinstate it.

"Don't think that you're the only ones frustrated," Matthews said to a small crowd in Cathedral Square.

Brownlee said the deal involved Anglicans putting $42m towards the restoration, campaign group Great Christchurch Buildings Trust raising $15m from donors and the Government donating $10m.

Trustee Moka Ritchie said the CPT had "never received a binding offer".

"We have waited a long time and worked with everyone who has come to us to try and reach a compromise.

Roger Bridge, who is a member of the working party to considering options for the Cathedral, expected the stalemate would be solved within the next month.

"Nothing's a sure thing, but both parties are working hard with goodwill to try and resolve this problem and find a way forward.

"I think everyone's frustrated, both the Government, the church and the people of Christchurch," Bridge said.

A spokeswoman for Brownlee said the Cathedral Working Group had made "significant efforts" to achieve a positive outcome for the cathedral and the city.

"In late December, Cabinet approved an offer of support involving a $10m payment towards the cathedral's restoration, a loan facility of up to $15 million, as well as the establishment of a Project Management Office and legislation for consenting of the project.  

"That offer was presented to the CPT and negotiations have continued since then," she said.

Brownlee was under the impression the CPT would meet next week to further discuss the options offered by the government.  

"The minister remains disappointed and frustrated that an agreement has not been reached."

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 - Stuff

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