Cathedral verdict ignored dissent

20:18, May 06 2012

Christ Church Cathedral's tower was demolished this week and there are plans to bring down most of the building. CHARLIE GATES has been reviewing thousands of pages of documents that chronicle the battle for the cathedral.

This is the story of how the decision to largely demolish Christ Church Cathedral was made. It is a story told against a backdrop of continuing aftershocks, government influence and insurance woes.

The future of the cathedral was decided under tight deadlines and intense pressure.

It was also made behind closed doors, but thousands of pages of public documents made public under the Official Information Act offer an insight into the competing motives and concerns that informed the decision.

The Christchurch City Council, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority have all made their files on the cathedral public.

The files include internal emails, engineering reports, meeting notes and agendas. The crucial missing element in this story is any file relating to the private meetings where the Anglican diocese made the final decision.


Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, Cera chief executive Roger Sutton and Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker have all called on the diocese to provide those documents. A diocese spokeswoman, when asked if the diocese would make available cathedral files, said the public documents provided a "significant amount" of information.

The public paper trail and our story begin on September 12 last year with an internal memo to Warwick Isaacs, Cera general operations manager at the time, from Cera engineers.

The memo recommends issuing a notice ordering demolition of the cathedral because it is a "dangerous building".

"We . . . conclude that it would not be possible to strengthen the building temporarily or otherwise in a safe manner without the risk of collapse of part or all of the building," the memo says.

The order, known as a section 38 notice, would have given cathedral leaders 10 days to let Cera know its plans to bring the cathedral down.

But the demolition order was never issued and Isaacs never signed the letter.

A possible order was left hanging over proceedings, with Isaacs telling senior council and Historic Places Trust staff two days later that the order was "all ready to go", an internal email by a senior council heritage staffer says.

The existence of a possible demolition order alarmed council and trust staff. Council staff member Fiona Wykes emailed Liz Clarke, of the Church Property Trust, which owns the building, on September 13.

"The last thing the CPT need is for Cera to serve a S38 on the cathedral and create some tight and difficult time frames," she wrote.

Malcolm Duff, of Historic Places Trust, emailed Isaacs on September 14, saying he was "alarmed by the news" and calling for formal consultation.

Isaacs replied, promising that he had "no intention of excluding either the city or NZHPT from assisting Cera making the necessary decisions regarding its future". It was a promise that was only partly kept.

In late September, senior staff from the council, Cera, the Culture and Heritage Ministry and the Historic Places Trust met to propose a collaboration with Anglican leaders over the future of the cathedral.

"The Anglican Church should not be left to carry the sole responsibility for any outcomes for the site. The site has national and international importance first and foremost as a focal point for the Anglican community, but also for the wider Canterbury and New Zealand community, many of whom identify closely with it," wrote Dave Margetts, of the Historic Places Trust.

The collaboration began on September 27 with the first meeting of the Cathedral Working Group, bringing together senior members of all the public bodies and Anglican leaders. The parties agreed to liaise closely, sharing information, media management and expert advice.

A tight deadline of just one month was set for the cathedral to be deconsecrated, a section 38 order issued and an option for the cathedral selected.

But the collaboration was an uneasy alliance that was to unravel in spectacular fashion during the next month.

In a September meeting, Matthews gave early indications that she would prefer a new cathedral.

In addition, the cathedral was facing a serious funding shortfall.

"Insurance for cathedral is not for full replacement value and there will be a funding shortfall for the rebuild," minutes from an October 4 meeting state.

"[Anglican diocese chief executive Gavin Holley] noted that there will need to be additional funds raised to the insurance payout for the cathedral, if anyone round the table had any potential contact with fund providers that they should contact [him]."

From the outset there were differences of opinion between engineers employed by the cathedral and those employed by the council and the Historic Places Trust.

In late June, cathedral engineers Holmes painted a bleak picture of the state of the building, detailing cracked walls and further damage to the west wall. But other engineers disagreed.

On September 29, a trust engineer was clear in an email about the prospects for the cathedral. "The building does not require deconstruction and can be brought up to an acceptable level of earthquake resistance."

The council received similar engineering advice, stating it could be safely deconstructed and propped. "It is our view that the cathedral is unlikely to suffer whole-scale catastrophic collapse as a result of further aftershocks," wrote an engineer retained by council in an October 3 email.

The engineering disputes continued when Holmes proposed a scheme on October 15 that would deconstruct much of the cathedral and prop the roof. Lower parts of the cathedral and the eastern end would be repaired in situ.

Again, council and trust engineers disagreed. "My concern would be that this amount of deconstruction and temporary works will further add [cost] and make retention less likely . . . This essentially gives more ammunition for deconstruction/ demolition in the form of costs for temporary work," wrote a council engineer in an email on October 17.

An email from a trust engineer on the same day comes to a similar conclusion. "I do not think the level of deconstruction proposed is totally necessary."

The tensions in the working group came to a head on October 18. The council tabled a letter expressing concern that the process was moving too fast.

The letter advised that demolition of the cathedral "should not be actioned prematurely or without considerable regard to the options that exist for it".

It also advised "there are reputational risks if the church or any parties are seen to be acting without taking account of a full range of options".

Cathedral project director Marcus Read, of project management firm RCP, was upset at the letter, according to notes from the meeting taken by council heritage response team leader Philip Barrett. He was concerned the letter would be "discoverable" under the Official Information Act and the council criticism would be made public.

This desire to keep information private is perhaps why there is little material from Anglican leaders in the public papers.

When the council refused to withdraw the letter, the disagreement went all the way up to Parker.

An email between senior council staff on the day of the meeting states: "I have raised this with the mayor and asked him to discuss this with the bishop. I have also raised it with Warwick to get confirmation of Cera's position on this.

"I have yet to get a response."


The council view expressed in the contentious letter was privately shared by the NZHPT.

An email from Margetts to NZHPT staff on the day of the meeting says: "This has been a fast process and we have been working with limited engineering information due to severe time constraints."

The fallout from the row over the letter can be seen in the response to a council-funded option for the cathedral.

The council commissioned United States seismic engineering firm Cardno Miyamoto to work on the cathedral.

Miyamoto came up with a scheme that involved saving many of the walls and reinforcing them with concrete, while other parts of the building would be reinforced with micro-piling.

The badly damaged west wall and tower would be deconstructed and reconstructed later. The work would bring the cathedral up to 67 per cent of the new building code.

But the scheme never gained traction. It was not included in a range of options presented to the Church Property Trust on October 21.

Barrett described this omission as "a mystery" and "irresponsible at best" in an October 25 email to senior council staff.

The contentious council letter was sent to Matthews the next day.

The process accelerated as the late October deadline approached.

On October 27, the Cathedral Working Group met for the last time.

It was another fractious meeting, according to Barrett's notes.

Read told him on the phone before the meeting that "CPT felt betrayed" by the contentious letter. " [In the meeting, Matthews] used very strong language voicing her disappointment, noting we were not on the opposite side of the table."

The council was told the final decision would go to public relations consultant Tracey Chambers "due to breaches of confidentiality [perceived by CPT of council heritage] and then to Cera and media release on Friday".

Council staff were being taken out of the loop. They emailed their concerns to Isaacs that day: "CCC is concerned that the demolition of the building should not be actioned prematurely or without considerable regard to the options that exist for it."

The CPT chose a make-safe option for the cathedral that day.

The next day, a press conference was held in the Botanic Gardens, with Brownlee and Sutton in attendance.

Matthews said "works will be undertaken on the cathedral as an interim measure which will require some controlled demolition and temporary measures in order to make the building safe".

Matthews told The Press she did not know how much of the cathedral would have to be demolished to make it safe.

Council heritage experts felt the announcement was not clear. Internal council emails describe the announcement as "a very woolly and vague pronouncement from the church" and complain of a "complete lack of co-operation on the part of Cera" over the building.

A section 38 notice was finally issued by Cera that afternoon, but was not made public.

An internal memo from Cera engineers, dated October 28 but not released publicly until November 4, said little would be left of the cathedral once dangerous parts of the building were removed.

"Cera engineers have considered full demolition versus partial demolition and, in our opinion, the extent of stable structure left after demolition of those parts of the building that could collapse or otherwise cause injury or death to any person in or around the building would be minimal," it said.

"Cera engineers have reviewed and considered the options outlined in the reports by HCG and Miyamoto. It is the opinion of Cera engineers that the proposed make- safe options, in their current form, do not reduce the risk of injury or death to tradesmen working in or around the building to an acceptable level.

"In our opinion, the building has suffered extensive damage and significant damage, is in poor structural condition and is sustaining more damage with the ongoing seismic aftershocks.

"We still maintain that the cathedral is dangerous as defined in the Building Act 2004.

"Given the continuing degradation of the structure, it is our opinion that it is possible that in the event of a significant aftershock or less than moderate earthquake, the building, or parts of the building, could collapse or otherwise cause injury or death to any person in or around the building.

"We therefore conclude that it would not be practicable to strengthen the building temporarily or otherwise in a safe manner without the risk of collapse of part or all of the building."

It was a recommendation that contradicted engineering advice received by the NZHPT and the council.

From this point on, the council was largely excluded from the process.

On November 1 and 2, council staff expressed frustration in internal emails at the lack of information.

"We are still trying to ascertain what option the church actually chose, but last we heard they were refusing to tell us. Cera have also been reluctant to share the file with us," wrote a council staff member.

An email the next day states: "On Friday, a Cera engineer . . . made it fairly clear that they are not intending to let us view the file - I am not certain what the big secret is."

On November 4, The Press reported the section 38 notice.

The council was eventually given access to the Cera recommendation when it was made public, along with hundreds of pages of files on the cathedral on the Cera website.

A council heritage engineer criticised the Cera recommendation on November 7.

"The [Cera] recommendation that demolition is appropriate is again refuted in the strongest possible terms. There has yet to be undertaken sufficient engineering input to enable such a conclusion to be made, and this should be taken on board by Cera," he wrote in an email.

Anglican leaders submitted their response to the section 38 notice on November 8 and the cathedral was deconsecrated on November 9.

Parker told The Press that no elected representatives attended the ceremony in Cathedral Square as work on new planning rules for the central city took precedence.

On November 18, cathedral engineers started to work on detailed plans to shore up and retain the building with extensive steel frames inside and out.

These plans were derailed by the major aftershocks on December 23, which forced a complete rethink.

Holmes completed a damage- inspection report of the building on January 11, detailing further damage to the cathedral.

On the same day, an email from RCP to Cera details insurance problems caused by the December quakes.

"Note that the recent aftershocks have caused the insurers considering providing contract works insurance for the cathedral more concern, and obtaining this insurance has become even more difficult.

"They have put a hold on processing the application until a further detailed information on the current state and works are provided."

From the middle of January, momentum started to build for the proposal to largely demolish the cathedral, taking the walls down to the windowsills.

The "windowsills option" was eventually formally chosen by Anglican leaders on March 1.

Notes from a meeting between the NZHPT and RCP on January 19 include the question: "Is damage too critical to bother any further securing?"

A Holmes report on January 23 investigates removing the cathedral roof and deconstructing the building down to the windowsills.

"While it is technically feasible to repair the cracked walls in situ and retain the dislocations as they are (ie, live with the cracks and vertical offsets in walls) this is not considered to be acceptable for aesthetic reasons," the report states.

As early as February 1, it becomes clear that "the windowsills option" is being favoured.

An email from Margetts to NZHPT staff on February 1 details a meeting with Read, who confirmed the "likely outcome" would be to take the cathedral down to the windowsills.

"This is all confidential at present and the CPT are working with their media consultant to formulate how this news will be released and managed at a future date," he wrote.

As Holmes continued to work on options for the cathedral, Matthews made media statements that appeared to pave the way for the windowsills option.

She appeared on Campbell Live on February 15 with Read, who said the cathedral was "slowly rocking herself to pieces".

The next day, an advertisement appeared in The Press stating the cathedral was "a very dangerous building" and that buildings were "secondary to our concern for people".

The advertisement was not preparing the public for possible demolition of the cathedral, Matthews told The Press.

"We are not preparing for a certain outcome. We need to tell people what we know," she said.

Cera got involved on February 23, with Isaacs writing a letter stating a preference for the option that required the most demolition.

In the letter, Isaacs said it was a "feasible option and could be done safely".

He said the option that retained most of the cathedral would not work.

"We have reservations about the effectiveness of temporary supports to restrain severely damaged masonry in a less than moderate earthquake event," Isaacs wrote.

"In support of our opinion, we note that the temporary support to the west wall of the cathedral did not prevent the wall from collapsing in a dangerous way.

"We consider that the building in its present condition would pose a high risk to tradesmen erecting and carrying out proposed temporary strengthening works within the building.

"From our personal experience, it is difficult to move in a significant earthquake event, especially while dodging falling masonry.

"Because of this, we consider that the provision of safe havens would do little to mitigate the risk to tradesmen working outside of these safe havens but within the building."

A few days later, on February 27, the NZHPT wrote a letter to Cera calling for most of the cathedral to be retained.

On the same day, the cathedral project group, including the chapter, CPT, standing committee and cathedral staff, recommended the windowsills option. Three days later, the CPT endorsed the decision.

The lack of public documents mean we do not know how that decision was reached, but an email from an NZHPT staff member on March 2 states: "The CPT and standing committee are unanimous except for one person on each group."

At a press conference in the Botanic Gardens on March 2, Matthews announced that the cathedral would be largely demolished. It was a rare public moment in what had been a mainly private process.

Demolition of the cathedral has begun, with the remains of the tower taken down this week.

Examination of the public document means we may be closer to knowing how this came to pass, but the Anglicans still hold the key.




Public documents on the battle for the cathedral reveal:

* Early indications from Bishop Victoria Matthews that she would prefer a new cathedral.

* A Cera section 38 demolition notice was "ready to go" as early as last September.

* The decision to largely demolish the cathedral was favoured in early February, weeks before a formal announcement.

* Dissent between engineers over the extent of quake damage and the engineering solution.

* The Christchurch City Council and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust were concerned at the speed of the decision and lack of engineering analysis.

* Anglican resistance to a solution that would have retained most of the cathedral.

* A fallout between the council and Anglican leaders

The Press