Church was first to give up on cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral was written off by Anglican church officials three months after the February 2011 earthquake, a court has heard.

The quake-damaged building's fate is being decided at a two-day High Court challenge brought by the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust against building owner, the Church Property Trust (CPT).

The trust, co-chaired by former Wigram MP Jim Anderton, sought a binding court ruling on whether the Anglican church's deconstruction plans breached an act of Parliament protecting church buildings. His legal advice suggested that, under the act, the church trustees were obliged to repair it.

Minutes from a May 2011 cathedral chapter meeting read to the court yesterday revealed the building was to be scrapped five months before the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) deemed it unsafe. Minutes recorded revealed:

The old cathedral "glorified God in the old tradition" and a new cathedral could glorify God in the New Zealand tradition.

Reluctance to go back to "how things were" and "huge opportunities" existed for a new building.

The cathedral was "more than just a building", it was the "heart and soul of the city".

The old cathedral was "important to many people who actually took nothing from it". A new one should "give more" to them.

Counsel for the building trust Francis Cooke said the trustees were obliged to respond to the Cera section 38 notice. Cera has the power to decide what deconstruction work must be done if a building is deemed dangerous.

A $40 million insurance payout well short of the repair costs created practical problems, but the issue was if the cathedral's fate was at the trustees' discretion, he said.

"They've received that section 38 notice, they've got to make the building safe, and they have decided, ‘Right, we're not going to commit our resources to this building anymore. We're going to take the $40m, build a transitional cathedral and then, at a later point in time, we're going to build a new cathedral'. They just don't have that power."

The cathedral chapter minutes suggested the trustees and church believed they were "free to decide" the building's future, Cooke said.

"That was a view they took before the section 38 notice arrived and before the further aftershocks," he said. "That was a view that was expressed very early in the piece, that this was an opportunity to do something new and different. It's that kind of freedom the [building trust] says the trustees simply do not have."

Counsel for the CPT, Jared Ormsby, said the trustees intended

to rebuild a cathedral in the Square and legislation did not specify that a replica of the original George Gilbert Scott design was required.

Deconstruction was inevitable regardless of the make-safe action taken by the trustees and the church did not have the funds to commit to maximum retention, Ormsby said.

The rebuild was expected to cost more than $100m based on a five-year plan.

Any delays would increase costs "exponentially", he said.

The hearing resumes today.

The Press