Rebuild minister 'deeply disappointed' by Christ Church Cathedral decision delay until September
A four-month delay in deciding the fate of the derelict Christ Church Cathedral, the "symbol of the city", has "deeply disappointed" the city's new recovery minister.
Decision-making power on the future of the earthquake-damaged building has been yanked from the Church Property Trustees (CPT), which controls Anglican property in Canterbury.
Instead, Bishop Victoria Matthews on Sunday announced members of the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch's synod – the diocese's 225-member governing body that includes elected parishoners and priests – would make the call at its meeting in early September. It was not known if this would be a unanimous or majority decision.
Sunday's announcement was the latest holdup in what has become a highly controversial topic in Christchurch's central-city rebuild, complete with accusations of "sham" negotiations and "delay tactics".
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Developers with property interests around Cathedral Square have made it clear they will not make decisions on their developments until a decision on the decaying cathedral is made.
Trustees had been considering a Government offer to help with cathedral restoration.
The deal involves the majority of the $104 million construction cost of restoration being funded by the Anglican's $42m insurance payout, a $10m government grant, a $15m government loan and a $15m funding pledge from the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust (GCBT).
The synod would now decide on whether to accept the offer or construct a new building.
Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Nicky Wagner said the city urgently needed "some kind of hope of a solution", adding the synod decision was "a long way away".
"I'm deeply disappointed and this is a horribly divisive issue and we were hoping for a breakthrough," she said.
"I think the key here is that we know that Christ Church Cathedral is a symbol of the Anglican church, but it's also the symbol of the city and seeing it broken and neglected … I don't think it's good for anyone.
"We somehow have to come up with a way forward that everybody can live with because we cannot spend another five or 10 years arguing about it."
Trustee and National Party Canterbury-Westland chairman Roger Bridge said it was the bishop's right and choice to transfer the responsibility to the synod.
"I believe the Anglican community must consider the affects on the broader community, the people of Christchurch, the businesses [and] the [Cathedral] Square of any decision that they make," he said.
"Because the decision the church makes will have an effect on the whole of Christchurch, on regeneration, [and] on the spirits of the people. Delays and ongoing litigation have an effect on [the] people."
Trustee and Deloitte New Zealand partner Steve Wakefield said he was supportive of Matthews' decision, which he labelled "another step in the journey".
Other trustees either declined to comment, did not return messages or could not be reached.
GCBT co-chairman Philip Burdon said he welcomed the bishop's call to transfer the decision-making power and was hopeful a resolution could be achieved.
Burdon had previously slammed negotiations to restore the cathedral as a "sham" because he said church leaders had a "private agenda" to demolish the historic building.
In a statement Matthews said the church was "very aware" of the community's frustration with how long it was taking for a decision to be made about the cathedral, which was damaged in February 2011.
"CPT and the entire diocese share that frustration.
"As the Christ Church Cathedral is a church building above all else and a place of worship, the decision on its future should be made by the membership of the synod comprising the gathered clergy and laity of the diocese who will be using the cathedral forever.
"This is a vitally important question for our diocese, the Canterbury community and impacts the regeneration of Christchurch, which is why I have now made the decision to take the vote to synod."
She said a recent "strong recommendation" from diocesan clergy to shift the responsibility had been a factor in her decision.
"For the past six-and-a-half years CPT and its staff have done extraordinary due diligence on different options regarding the future of the cathedral."
A survey undertaken by the church found the public was "still divided" over rebuilding the cathedral or building an "inspirational and fit for purpose" contemporary cathedral, Matthews said, but the church and "a majority" of the CPT wanted the latter.
She said a design for a new cathedral was undecided, but the cost would fill within the $42m insurance fund.
Church property trustees included Bridge, Wakefield, former Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority boss Roger Sutton, law lecturer Moka Ritchie, civil engineer Bruce Deam, retired equine vet Corin Murfitt and Colliers director Gary Sellars.