Bishop's attitude to Cathedral 'bizarre'

PHILIP BURDON
Last updated 10:54 14/03/2014
Christ Church Cathedral
Joseph Johnson/Fairfax NZ

ICONIC HERITAGE: The Anglican Cathedral is the oldest in NZ and has the highest heritage listing possible.

Philp Burdonf
Kirk Hargreaves
PHILIP BURDON: Co-chairman of the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust.
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OPINION: Nothing would symbolise survival, rebirth and memorial so dramatically as the restoration of the Christ Church Cathedral, writes Philip Burdon

The legacy of the earthquake is a devastated and broken city that has shown a brave and determined ambition to recover and rebuild.

The Arts Centre, the Canterbury Museum and the very badly damaged Provincial Council Chambers have all committed to a restoration programme that has the support and endorsement of their governing bodies.

Of the iconic symbols of the history and heritage of the city, only the cathedral remains an issue of bitter contention and debate.

The cathedral was, and remains, the physical symbol of the deeply religious convictions and beliefs of the founding fathers of the Canterbury Settlement.

Its 40-year construction remains a permanent monument to the tenacity of the Anglican Church and the commitment of the broader community to dignify the city of Christchurch with an appropriate physical presence.

The cathedral was the first Anglican cathedral in New Zealand to be completed and it remains the oldest Anglican Cathedral in the country. In architectural terms it is distinguished as the only building in Australasia designed by Sir George Scott, the pre-eminent Victorian church architect.

The cathedral is registered as a Category one site by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and is listed as a Group One building in the Council's City Plan.

This is the highest heritage listing available to either the Historic Places Trust or the Christchurch City Council.

The Historic Places Act 1993 describes category one buildings as "places of special or outstanding historical or cultural significance or value" and the previous 1980 Act further states that their permanent preservation is regarded as essential. In addition, the Christchurch City Plan states that demolition of Group One buildings is not a permitted use.

From all points of view the Cathedral has a unique significance to the Anglican Church and the city of Christchurch which makes the argument for its demolition all the more surprising.

Nothing would symbolise survival, rebirth and memorial so dramatically as the restoration of the cathedral.

Even though all the more recent opinion polls show a significant majority in favour of restoration, sadly Bishop Victoria and the Church Property Trustees continue to reject all offers of engineering and financial help from the broader community to independently fundraise and restore the cathedral and seem happy to confuse with grossly exaggerated costings.

The recent offer of $4 million by the visiting English businessman Hamish Ogston has received an ungracious and negative response.

The commitment of the Greater Christchurch Building Trust to fundraise, and of the The Historic Places Trust and others to assist with the restoration of the cathedral, are all treated with apparent irritation and resentment.

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In practical terms there is a considerable appetite to fundraise for the restoration of the cathedral but no apparent interest from the advocates of a new building to contribute financially in any meaningful shape or form.

In the circumstances a replacement building will inevitably be a sad and pale imitation of what we have at present, presuming it is ever built.

The bishop and her advisers resolutely refuse to listen to and respect the advice of the Historic Places Trust, the appropriate council officials and relevant authorities that the cathedral can be restored and that it will be very difficult if not impossible to demolish a Category One building.

Had there been no earthquake there would, of course, have been no question of the demolition of the "Symbol of the City" and it is intriguing and bizarre that the bishop shows so little sympathy for its restoration.

Inevitably its demolition will further polarise an already divided and unhappy Anglican church and the community at large.

It is a tragic and unnecessary debate that hopefully the church and the community can constructively resolve.

Philip Burdon is co-chairman of the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust, a former cabinet minister and a canon almoner of the cathedral.

- The Press

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