Christ Church Cathedral condemned

Last updated 14:42 02/03/2012
Daniel Tobin

Bishop Victoria Matthews announces the Christ Church cathedral is to be deconstructed.

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COMING DOWN: Bishop Victoria Matthews announces the fate of Christ Church Cathedral in the Botanic Gardens today.
DISCUSSIONS: Mayor Bob Parker and Bishop Victoria Matthews speak after today's announcement.

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The severely quake-damaged and "very dangerous" Christ Church Cathedral will not be rebuilt it has been confirmed.

Bishop Victoria Matthews, speaking in the Botanical Gardens this afternoon, said the cathedral would be "deconstructed with the utmost care and respect while at the same time protecting the treasures within its walls".

She said there would be "no bulldozers or wrecking balls".

A reconstruction was ruled out as costing $50 million more than any insurance payment, while the shortfall to build a replica cathedral was about $100m.

Protest action planned

However, a city councillor has already threatened to chain himself to the cathedral to prevent any demolition.

Cr Aaron Keown said the cathedral would be demolished ''over my dead body''.

''I would be in there chaining myself to the building to stop that and I know lots of other volunteers would come in to do that.

"Forget Lucy Lawless' little eight-person campaign, this would be a big one,'' he said.

''We'd form a ring around the building and not let them in. It shouldn't even be a discussion.''

Keown said he had been inside the cathedral after the December 23 quake and it was in ''good shape''.

The damaged west side was ruined but could be replaced with glass and the steeple rebuilt with wood.

Only four tiles on the roof had loosened, he said. ''If the building was in trouble, the roof would look like New Brighton beach. It would be all warped, the tiles popped and beams gone.''

Keown likened it to a person ''busting their leg'' and the doctor telling the family, ''right, we're going to have to pull the pin now''.

''I don't mind making new history, but not when it's not necessary. We're going to build enough new history,'' he said.

December aftershocks changed thinking

The bishop acknowledged a "high level of community interest and sense of ownership" in the cathedral as an iconic building and a place of worship for many.

"However, this is now a very dangerous building that needs to be made safe" and a risk to those working on the site.

"If anyone had been in the building on December 23 they would have been put at a great risk of serious injury or worse," said the bishop.

Further deterioration since December 23 and the risk of further earthquakes had changed thinking on its future.

"The Anglican Diocese is facing a hard reality - the cathedral is the revered Mother Church but is not the only church in the diocese to have sustained damage, in some cases irreparable or too costly to repair." 

The Church Property Trust and standing committee faced a significant shortfall in insurance, estimated at up to $30m across the Anglican diocese, without any future damage being considered.

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The sums on the cathedral alone were "staggering".

The shortfall to build a replica cathedral was about $100m, while a new build incorporating some of the old would incur a shortfall of up to $50m.

Bishop Victoria said the trust was now "looking to the future" and wanted to create "a beautiful, inspiring, safe new cathedral".

A transitional cathedral would provide a venue for worship in the meantime.

'Good decision'

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said today a ''good decision'' had been made ''given the state of the building''.

''We've got to remember that the Christ Church Cathedral in Christchurch centre does somewhat define the city, so it's a very sensitive building.

"I think the real challenge now is to work what is going to be the shape of the building that defines us, or the place that defines us, going forward,'' he said.

''It's a been tough decision, a hard decision, but I commend the courage of those who've had to come to this realisation today.''

'Brand new vision' sought

Earlier today senior church sources said there was no desire among regular worshippers and many clergy to retain the cathedral.

One insider said a consensus existed for "a brand-new vision".

Campaigners to restore the cathedral had repeated call for a moratorium

Ian Lochhead, chairman of heritage advocate Interests in Conserving the Identity of Christchurch (IConIC), said "a cooling off period" was needed to allow the best engineering and heritage advice available internationally to be brought in.

Fundraising expert and campaigner Graeme Brady also called for a moratorium.

"What we are trying to do is delay the demolition of the cathedral . . . until some alternative experts are allowed to look at the future."

It has also emerged that cathedral leaders rejected an offer of free seismic engineering advice from a leading expert.

United States structural engineer Kit Miyamoto said the cathedral could be restored and strengthened for $20 million.

Miyamoto is California's seismic safety commissioner and has worked on earthquake strengthening for thousands of buildings around the world.

He offered the cathedral free advice from two Milan-based partners at his firm who specialise in repairing historic, ornamental buildings damaged by quakes in Italy.

The experts would have been flown to New Zealand and paid from a foundation run by Miyamoto's firm.

"They declined the offer. It was a nice, simple letter saying, 'we don't need it thank you very much'," he said last week.

"They said they are OK and taking care of business," Miyamoto said.

"It is really common in Italy to restore and strengthen these kinds of buildings. I know it would be feasible to repair it and make it very safe.

"It would cost about $20m to restore and strengthen the building."

A cathedral spokeswoman said: "The context in which Miyamoto gave an opinion on the cathedral has changed since the events of December 23 and the further damage sustained by the cathedral.

"The cathedral is now closed due to the danger it poses to human safety."

- The Press


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