Cathedral demolition simply not an option
Co-chairman of the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust, PHILIP BURDON argues the case for the restoration of the Christ Church Cathedral.
I was grateful to see Anglican Church officials show their apparent willingness to consider a more reflective and inclusive approach to the Christ Church Cathedral debate.
Until now the church officials have single-mindedly advocated for the demolition of the cathedral and its replacement with a contemporary design on the basis of the impracticality of restoration, cost of repair and liturgical inconvenience of the current building.
The debate has been deeply polarising with those opposed to the Church's commitment to demolish and replace the cathedral with a contemporary design having no other option than to revert to the law to oppose the Church's ambition to demolish.
The Church Property Trustees have now publicly advised that while still preferring a contemporary design they are willing to consider the replica design proposed by Sir Miles Warren and contemporaneously with this debate have agreed to discussions with the respective engineers of the Church and the Greater Christchurch Building Trust to agree on an appropriate engineering solution to the restoration of the cathedral.
These discussions are proposed to take place early in May with the Greater Christchurch Building Trust agreeing to bear the costs of these meetings
The debate remains deeply divisive and is characterised by profound misconceptions of entitlement and right.
It is assumed by many that the Church Property Trustees have an absolute entitlement by virtue of their property right to do as they wish with the building. This assumption has been entrenched by the court decision that the Church Property Trustees were only required to have "a" cathedral and not therefore required to preserve and by implication repair the existing cathedral.
It has been overlooked by many commentators and the community at large that there are profound over-arching legal impediments to the demolition of a category-one heritage building with which the above mentioned court case was not concerned.
It would be extremely difficult if not impossible to get legal permission to demolish one of the most, if not the most, significant category-one heritage building in the country and I can think of no occasion where such an application has succeeded.
Heritage New Zealand and other well-resourced advocacy groups would inevitably oppose such an application. Complementary to the inevitable opposition of Heritage New Zealand would be the protracted hearings that the opponents of any demolition order issued would take to both the High Court and the Environment Court and the exercising of their rights under the Resource Management Act.
The Church will have inevitably been advised of the reality of these legal impediments and at some stage all parties are going to have to factor them into an agreed solution.
The Church would be very aware that Sir Miles' proposal is not a compromise. It requires the demolition of the existing building and the replacement with a replica as opposed to a new design.
It is not a restoration and will inevitably be opposed by those who want to retain the integrity of the existing structure
In seeking a solution, I don't think it is helpful to once again canvass the court of public opinion. There have been endless surveys formal and informal of which the most authoritative is the Colmar Brunton survey conducted before Christmas and clearly there is a profound desire to restore the cathedral.
The reality remains that the cathedral is a category-one heritage building that the laws of the country have been specifically designed to protect from demolition.
In addition, in the City Plan the building is also categorised as a Group A scheduled building, protected by the Christchurch City plan. The legal impediments to demolition are overwhelming.
Ultimately there has to be a constructive collaboration between the various participating parties. The building remains the most public private building in the country. It is the "symbol of the city" and has a historical, heritage and spiritual significance for many Cantabrians that is deeply emotional.
As the surveys have shown, demolition is simply not an option for a significant number of Cantabrians.
The cathedral has been the central part of the life of the city for the last 150 years.
All major celebrations, tragedies and significant events that have been part of our history have been appropriately acknowledged in this building.
It is the unique and iconic symbol of our heritage and our city.
The Greater Christchurch Building Trust has, as its mandate, the preservation of heritage buildings in Christchurch. It takes no pleasure in its adversarial relationship with the Church Property Trustees.
We would sincerely hope that we can have a constructive dialogue with the Church so as to preserve the external appearance of the cathedral which most believe belongs to the community at large while at the same time improving the interior of the building in a way that makes it more liturgically convenient and appropriate for the needs of the Anglican Church.
The Greater Christchurch Building Trust will willingly participate in any discussions that the Church Property Trustees may wish to have in respect of funding engineering or related issues that may assist the Church Property Trustees in their deliberations.
Christchurch is a small community and it is truly bizarre that we cannot constructively engage and resolve these issues in a collaborative manner.
Endless recriminations and resentments that tend to characterise many of the letters to The Press do not help.
The continuing spectacle of forlorn neglect that the cathedral now represents in the centre of the city does no-one any credit and is for all concerned profoundly sad.