Bishop rejects cathedral compromise

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 26/02/2014

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Bishop Victoria Matthews has rejected an offer of peace talks over the Christ Church Cathedral rebuild, accusing the nation's heritage watchdog of trying to "publicly pressure" the church into a partial retention.

Despite the response, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) says it remains hopeful of an "open dialogue" over the landmark's future.

The NZHPT this month formalised its offer to act as an intermediary between the Church Property Trustees and those seeking restoration of the cathedral, to explore whether a compromise solution was possible.

In a letter to the trustees, NZHPT southern general manager Rob Hall sought a meeting to discuss options "that will satisfy both your requirements and indeed the requirements of others".

"A successful outcome may enhance the opportunity for significant financial support from potential donors," Hall wrote.

In her response, received last week, Matthews told Hall it was difficult to see what else there was to discuss.

She said it would take time to consider any request because of the church's workload and pressing issues, including ongoing legal action with the Greater Christchurch Building Trust.

To consider the trust's request would also require "specific and rigorous" new information that addressed the church's engineering, safety and cost concerns, rather than "vague suggestions".

"Ever since 2012 the trustees have been very open with their concerns about any attempted retention of the building - whether partial or 'maximum'," she said.

Matthews criticised Hall's approach, in particular speaking to media and city councillors, saying it did not suggest the trust was a "neutral intermediary".

"Rather, they point to NZHPT as pressing an agenda and attempting to publicly pressure the trustees into a particular course of action. It goes without saying that such an approach is likely to be counter-productive."

Matthews sent a copy of her letter to Culture and Heritage Minister Christopher Finlayson "for his information".

Hall told The Press he met trustees manager Gavin Holley after receiving the letter and remained hopeful "for an open dialogue between all the parties".

He said he respected the bishop's views, but expert advice the trust had received suggested there were options for at least partial retention. The trust also hoped to help the various parties avoid further expensive legal action.<

"We've been clear that the focus of our role is New Zealand's significant heritage. A heritage building as significant as the cathedral being lost unnecessarily is obviously a concern to us," he said.

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"We remain of the view that there is a lot of middle ground . . ."

Matthews did not respond to requests for comment from The Press yesterday.

- The Press

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