Opinion: Cathedral talks are a 'sham'

Christ Church Cathedral as it is today.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Christ Church Cathedral as it is today.

The long running negotiations over the restoration of the Christ Church Cathedral remain unresolved as the "good faith negotiations" of the church leadership are increasingly called into question.

Structurally the building has been the subject of endless engineering reviews and without exception it is agreed by all expert opinion that the cathedral can be made safe and restored to 100 per cent of code using contemporary building techniques and materials.

Offers of help in kind and directly have been made by all sectors of society throughout the country. Opinion polls consistently and overwhelmingly support restoration.

Philip Burdon, co-chairman of the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust
KIRK HARGREAVES

Philip Burdon, co-chairman of the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust

Endless attempts informally and formally have been made to to reach an agreement with the Anglican church to restore the cathedral. The most recent was the Crown Working Party led by Geoff Dangerfield, a retired senior public servant, where a recommendation was signed off and agreed by the three participating parties – the Crown, the Church Property Trustees (CPT) and the Great Christchurch Building Trust (GCBT).

The public were led to believe that the appropriate announcement would be made before Christmas and when that failed by February 22, being the sixth anniversary of the earthquake.

The offers are generous with a substantial Government contribution and the appropriate enabling legislation to allow a global fundraising campaign along with the commitment by the GCBT to help in the appropriate manner the domestic fund raising campaign.

Bishop Victoria Matthews mingles at a Christchurch City Mission Christmas lunch at Christchurch East School in this file ...
Daniel Tobin

Bishop Victoria Matthews mingles at a Christchurch City Mission Christmas lunch at Christchurch East School in this file photo.

The Crown and the broader community have bent over backwards to accommodate the Church. I suggest it is doubtful if any recipient of such generous offers of help has ever been so ungrateful or so unhelpful.

The reality is that, regardless of the understandings that have been reached, the process has been frustrated by an endless succession of last minute objections by the church leadership.

Sadly, the senior church leadership appears to have little sympathy, respect or understanding of the history, heritage and spiritual significance that the cathedral has for many of the congregation and the broader community, not to mention the unique significance of being the "Symbol of the City" to the world at large.

Bishop Victoria's comment in the March edition of Anglican Life that "On the home front the folks who live to see the Cathedral building in the Square reinstated and the media who love the controversy are once again getting wound up" is patronisingly insensitive and arrogant. She seems determined to remain an outsider who neither relates to nor understands her host community.

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On the face of it, it would appear that we have all been the victims of sham negotiations and that the private ambition of the relevant Church leadership has always been to oppose restoration.

The building remains the symbol of the city and it cannot be allowed to stand indefinitely as a monument to decay and neglect, forever frustrating the development of the centre of the city.

It is very wrong for the city to be held to ransom by the whim of a church leadership who has neither sympathy nor respect for the interests and concerns of the wider community, not to mention the majority of her own congregation.

Unfairly or not, it appears that the private agenda of some is to procrastinate and oppose in the forlorn hope that they will in years to come get consent to demolish.

There are many precedents for state intervention not least of all Old St Pauls in Wellington and in the absence of constructive engagement it would be appropriate for the state to intervene.

Regardless something must be done as it is clear from all available evidence that the present leadership of the Church has no intention of sympathetically or constructively engaging in the restoration of the Cathedral.

Philip Burdon is a businessman, former Cabinet member and co-chairman of the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust, which has been campaigning to restore the cathedral.

Editor's note: The Church Property Trustees were invited on Thursday afternoon to provide a right of reply to this opinion piece. The trustees indicated they were unable to meet publication deadline of Friday evening, but would provide a response as soon as possible.

* Comments on this story are now closed.

 - Stuff

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