Cathedral's fate battled in court

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 15:19 03/10/2012
Christ Church Cathedral tourist
Richard Cosgrove
LEGAL BATTLE: The Cathedral's fate is being decided at a two-day High Court challenge.

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Christ Church Cathedral trustees have no legal power to demolish the building, a court has heard.

The earthquake-damaged cathedral'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).

Counsel for the building trust Francis Cooke told the court today the trustees' obligations were outlined in two acts of parliament.

Their powers were "extensive and specific", but did not include the power to demolish, he said.

The trustees would need the act to be changed by Parliament to be relieved of their powers, Cooke said.

He said the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's section 38 notice, which the trustees said required urgent action to be taken, was an order to make safe, not demolish.

The trustees faced a difficult decision, given the significant shortfall in insurance payout, Cooke said.

A new cathedral was expected to exceed insurance funds by about $30 million.

The transfer of the land from the provincial council to the Anglican Church was also under scrutiny.

Cooke said the land was gifted to the bishop of Christchurch and his successors, not the CPT, which had been in existence for four years at the time.

How the cathedral became part of the CPT's assets was a "missing piece of the jigsaw", he said.

The court was told that the trustees had a moral and legal obligation to maintain and repair the building.

Cooke said that saving the cathedral was "symbolic" of the city's quake recovery.

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

It was a "public institution" gifted to the Anglican Church by the provincial council as a public reserve and with funds raised by the community and "significant" ongoing funding from the city council and public supporters.

He said the land was gifted for the specific purpose of construction of a cathedral and not the "general ecclesiastical purposes" of the church.

"We say the trustees are not free to demolish," he said.

"The trustees' legal obligations are to repair and maintain the cathedral."

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