Anderton takes church to High Court

JIM ANDERTON: 'This is for the court to determine'
JIM ANDERTON: 'This is for the court to determine'

A fight to save Christ Church Cathedral is heading to the High Court.

The Great Christchurch Buildings Trust, with former MP Jim Anderton as co-chairman, appeared to have fired its final shot after Anglican Church officials last week rejected a report saying the earthquake-damaged building could be safely restored.

However, Anderton yesterday said the trust was seeking a declaratory judgment, or binding court ruling, to determine whether the church's plans breached an act of Parliament protecting church buildings. It will launch the action on Tuesday.

Anderton's legal advice suggested that, under the act, church trustees were obligated to maintain and repair the building.

Because there were no reasons stipulated in the act on when it was allowable to bring down churches, Anderton believed he had a case.

Two Queen's counsel backed the stance, he said.

"On the face of it, if you can repair it, you haven't got the right to demolish it. This is for the court to determine, but our legal advice is we have a very strong case," he said.

The court could order the church to undertake "genuine consultation".

"That's when we might get a chance to get the engineers around the table," Anderton said.

Court action could have been avoided if the trust was dealing with a "loving owner", but negotiations with the Cathedral Project Group had broken down, he said.

"If we had that, we wouldn't have all this rubbish. We have to go through all this because you have to drag them kicking and screaming to even talk to us,'' he said.

"It's clearly not a dialogue. You meet with [the project group] and they just tell you what's going to happen, [so] we've called a halt."

The judgment was likely to take three to four weeks, Anderton said.

Cathedral Project Group spokesman Gavin Holley said the group was "extraordinarily disappointed" by the trust's action.

The group had entered discussions in April "in good faith", suspended deconstruction work, released all relevant engineering advice and costings, given unrestricted access to the trust's engineers and spent $12,000 reviewing the trust's plans.

"We thank the [trust's] interest in and commitment to the cathedral building. However, we have to point out that the [trust] is focused only on a full restoration of the cathedral building," Holley said.

"The Cathedral Project Group has consistently stated there are many aspects to be considered which will result in a future cathedral that supports mission and ministry, serves the community, is inspirational and speaks to the past but looks to the future."

Consultation on a new design began last week.

The Press