The pause in the demolition of Christ Church Cathedral is a positive sign that the building's fate is not sealed. Its destruction, which had seemed the inevitable outcome of the Anglican Church's stand, is now less certain as the Government and the diocese consider the Greater Christchurch Building Trust's report that sets out a plan for the cathedral's conservation. The result is the sense that, for the first time, the contending parties are in dialogue.
The previous lack of serious dialogue had raised the temperature of the debate, causing unnecessary division in a city in need of unity. Positions had become entrenched, personal accusations were too common and the tone was embittered. The pause to consider eases that tension, at least temporarily. Even if the Anglican hierarchy remains committed to demolition, the advocates of retention will at least have the consolation of knowing that they were listened to.
They certainly have given their cause the best chance of success by producing the Building Trust report. It is a considered document from prestigious engineers that gives a detailed account of how the cathedral can be saved with most of its features intact. The somewhat vague assertions that salvage was possible have now been hardened into a clear plan of action.
That was bound to make the diocese and the Government at least seem to reconsider their position if they were not to appear unreasonable, but the hope must be that they are giving the plan more than superficial scrutiny.
It is important that if the cathedral comes down, it is as a result of a decision based on all the facts, not just on concerns about safety and worries about money.
Those issues clearly are high among the church's justifications for demolition, but its failure to release all the documentation backing its case - even after the Government requested such a release - has weakened its position. As its critics say, if the need for demolition is as pressing as the hierarchy says, produce the evidence.
Also needed is more serious discussion of the money needed for restoration. Both sides have substantially different estimates, a difference that makes the rational consideration of restoration difficult. The sum is bound to be many millions of dollars, but that should not be hastily dismissed as impossible to obtain. Wealthy donors are waiting in the wings and expert fundraising is on offer.
The Anglicans have pushed themselves into a corner, but now they have the chance to turn around and face the room. The trust's detailed report offers the church the chance to reply in kind and directly confront the issues of money, safety and the feasibility of reconstruction.
Unless the response is detailed and reasoned, the debate will continue with increased rancour. Conservationists will again feel that they have been snubbed and that the productive dialogue has been shut down.
The church needs to consider not just the ill will that a less than detailed response would produce. It needs to recognise that it is in conflict with a great many Christchurch people, some of them the city's most wealthy and influential citizens.
These people will not give up their attempts to save the cathedral, and if it does come down, they will be alienated from a denomination that has held a central position in Canterbury.
The Anglican hierarchy, if only as a matter of pastoral outreach and concern for its position, should make more effective efforts to take people with them as they decide the cathedral's fate. If they fail in that, they will tarnish their denomination's prestige.
With that would go some of Canterbury's identity - an identity shaped by Anglicanism as a denomination and a style. As The Press wrote about the consecration of the cathedral, in 1881, the building is "a symbol to our children and their descendants of the spirit which animated those who projected the settlement of Canterbury, a spirit which we who have come after have, however imperfectly, endeavoured to give form and shape to".
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