Editorial: Frustration on all sides in the cathedral debate
It has become customary for all sides in the protracted negotiations over the restoration or "reinstatement" of the earthquake-damaged Christ Church Cathedral to identify with the frustrations of the people of Christchurch who watch the slow dripfeed of public information.
A spokeswoman for Greater Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says he is "disappointed and frustrated" that no agreement has been reached to restore the building. Brownlee is on the Government side of the table. Speaking for the Anglican Church, Bishop Victoria Matthews held a small news conference on Sunday in front of the building she described as both an "eyesore" and an "icon" and said she too was frustrated.
On Monday, restoration campaigner Philip Burdon, who co-chairs the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust with another retired politician, Jim Anderton, told RNZ's Morning Report that there is "a profound frustration within the community at the way that this has not been settled yet". That is the understatement of the year.
The public wonders how there can be frustration on all sides and still no agreement. The cathedral stand-off has a strange knack for resurfacing at the least appropriate or most politically embarrassing moments. Hopes were raised in November 2016 that a deal between the Government and the Church Property Trust (CPT) to restore the partially damaged Christ Church Cathedral was imminent only to be dashed again just before Christmas.
There is still no deal two months later. Greater Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is clearly worried that the Government could be blamed for the grim state of the cathedral on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the February 22 earthquake, which is why he released details of the financial offer that he said the Government made to the CPT. The minister would have wanted to front-foot bad news about the cathedral, especially as there is more obvious progress elsewhere in the city.
It seems like a good deal. The Government would donate $10 million towards the reinstatement of the cathedral and offer another $15m as a loan to underwrite the project during fundraising. The CPT has $42m to put in and Anderton and Burdon have raised another $15m. The Government also offered to handle the resource consents and set up a project management office. This seemed generous.
The reinstatement of the cathedral is expected to cost over $100m, meaning further fundraising would be needed. While it is hard to imagine that money could not be easily raised, given the iconic status of the building at local, national and even international levels, the church is understandably anxious about committing to a project it may not be able to afford. It asked for a $30m loan during fundraising rather than the $15m offered.
Both in public and behind the scenes, those involved in negotiations say that an agreement can be reached, possibly within the next month, although the church has said it may take another six months, which is almost too depressing to contemplate. In the meantime, the disagreements and distrust expressed in the media over the past week inspire few in Christchurch with confidence, especially as any financial agreement will surely be followed by equally protracted discussions and arguments about how much of the building can be successfully restored.