Anglicans lobbied council for streamlined Christ Church Cathedral demolition planning rules

Delays in deciding what to do with Christ Church Cathedral are holding up development around Cathedral Square.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Delays in deciding what to do with Christ Church Cathedral are holding up development around Cathedral Square.

Anglican leaders lobbied council to change city planning rules so the Christ Church Cathedral could be demolished more easily.

Church Property Trustees (CPT), which controls Anglican property in Canterbury, submitted to the new Christchurch city plan in June last year asking for planning rules to change so demolition could not be refused and the public would have no say in any application.

The bid was unsuccessful. The new city plan rules mean the Christchurch City Council can refuse an application to demolish the cathedral to make way for a new modern building on specific grounds. The council could choose to make it a notified consent, giving the public a say in the decision.

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The CPT submission on the city plan argued it wanted to be able to act quickly once a decision on restoration or replacement of the cathedral was made.

"CPT wants to be in a position so that when a decision . . . is made it will be in a position to implement that decision . . . Further delays and unnecessary debate about whatever decision is made will simply hold the city back for a number of further years."

If Anglican trustees decided to demolish the cathedral for a new building they would face a series of challenges.

The two main hurdles would be securing demolition consent from council and getting permission from Heritage New Zealand (HNZ) to demolish a building with archaeological significance on a site dating from before 1900.

If demolition consent was granted, heritage campaigners would likely challenge it in court. 

Great Christchurch Buildings Trust (GCBT) co-chairman Philip Burdon said a decision to pursue demolition would lead to "years and years of ongoing litigation". The GCBT campaigned for restoration of the cathedral.

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"The GCBT . . . would totally oppose that and would use the full force of the legal entitlement to see that this never happened.

"It would mean years and years of ongoing litigation."

Trustees could not demolish the cathedral without an archaeological authority from HNZ.

HNZ southern region general manager Sheila Watson said they had not yet considered the issue.

"We don't have an application and until we have one we wouldn't have a stance," she said.

"We would treat it like any other application."

If HNZ refused the application, trustees could appeal to the Environment Court.

Files released under the Official Information Act in 2012 showed HNZ was considering the implications of a possible application.

Internal meeting notes from 2012 stated that allowing demolition could damage the trust's reputation, but warned stopping demolition could be seen as excessive use of its powers.

Independent planning commissioner David Collins submitted on the city plan last year for heritage campaign group Restore Christchurch Cathedral.

He said any demolition consent granted for the cathedral by council could be appealed in the Environment Court.

"Anyone can appeal that decision if they submitted on the case."

Any demolition application would be heard by a council-appointed planning commissioner. Council was unable to provide information on whether rules in the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Act would impact on the cathedral planning process.

Trustees are considering a Government offer to help with restoration of the cathedral. 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 GCBT.

The trustees, chaired by Bishop Victoria Matthews, are National Party Canterbury-Westland chairman Roger Bridge, former Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority boss Roger Sutton, law lecturer Moka Ritchie, civil engineer Bruce Deam, Deloitte partner Steve Wakefield, retired equine vet Corin Murfitt and Colliers director Gary Sellars. 

 - Stuff

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