Church plans irk rugby club

21:58, May 04 2013
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Church height compared

Plans to build an Egyptian Orthodox Christian church complete with a 12-metre tower and gold domes on the edge of Harewood's Nunweek Park have sparked a row with a long-established Christchurch rugby club.

The Coptic Orthodox Church bought the former Merivale-Papanui clubrooms last year and now plans to build a church next to the existing building.

The club, which still relies on the former clubrooms to provide power to its grounds, says the church is not in keeping with the park and feels the Christchurch City Council has acted as "judge, jury and executioner" in granting resource consent.

Coptic Orthodox Church
BY DESIGN: How the new Coptic Orthodox Church in Harewood on the edge of Nunweek Park will look

Deputy club captain Nigel McAlister said there was a lack of community consultation and the entrance to the park "feels like a fenced off prison" since the church starting using the clubrooms.

"It's a community asset and it's been that way for so long . . . I know we don't really have a leg to stand on because it's privately owned by the church now but the whole thing is just disappointing."

He felt the club had been locked out of a facility that "is part of our history" and the council had not considered the "loss of services" to park users.

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Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church
AT WORK: Father Sourial Sourial, of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church in Christchurch, lights candles for a prayer service yesterday.

Club president Matt Hinman said the proposed church "just felt wrong" and said it would cost the club $30,000 to redirect power supply to the park's lights.

Father Sourial Sourial, of the Coptic Church, said the rugby club had been welcomed with "respect and love" but said it needed to realise the site was privately owned.

"It's a change for them and we understand that . . . but it's not a public space any more."

In a resource consent hearing decision, commissioner David Collins referred to a potential conflict of interest because the council, as the owner of the park, was the most immediately affected landowner.

Written approval for the proposed church was given by the council, he said, putting "[it] in a position where there could be a perception that the council cannot be impartial".

Collins found a neighbour's argument that the church would affect the "rural character" of the area "confusing", as the site was not part of the park and the church had erected a fence around it.

The church has been using the clubrooms since early 2011 after its Edgeware church was destroyed in the September 2010 earthquake.

Its new site used to be owned by Christchurch's McVicar family but was sold to the church last year and the rugby club has been allowed access to the building to turn on the power for the park's lighting.

McAlister said the McVicars had applied to set up a vintage car museum at the clubrooms but the application was denied on the grounds "that this area is for sport and always has been".

However, church representative Mofreh Saleh said the rugby club was "upset because this site used to be theirs and now it's not".

He said the club had been leaving the power on when it was not required and were not paying electricity costs and the council had taken the "legal and correct steps" to grant resource consent.

The church would conduct "quiet community activity" and wanted to build "something beautiful for the city of Christchurch", he said.

Dr Nagi Bishay, an engineer for Kirk Roberts, has helped design the church and said it would be a "wonderful building" built to the highest of standards.

It was hoped construction would begin late this year and the project relied entirely on community and church donations.

Deb Jackson, from the Airport Guesthouse opposite the clubrooms, said she had "no problem whatsoever" with the proposed church. "When that was a rugby club, we had issues with drinking and people throwing bottles . . . and peeing in letterboxes."

COPTIC CHURCH FACTS

One of the oldest denominations in the world.

Said to have been founded by St Mark and belongs to the Eastern Oriental Orthodox church.

The word Copt means Egyptian.

About 100 Ethiopian and Egyptian families make up its community.

Father Sourial Sourial has been a priest for 34 years and moved to Christchurch 17 years ago.

The Press