Editorial: Money no longer a stumbling block for Christ Church Cathedral

DAVID WALKER/Stuff.co.nz

MP Nicky Wagner and Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel addressed gathered media about a new Government offer for the Christ Church Cathedral.

The Government's final offer to the Church Property Trustees to help with reinstatement of the Christ Church Cathedral should remove financial concerns as a reason to not restore the symbolic heart of our city.

For much of the last six years, the cathedral has been a symbol of acrimony. Now there is a chance for it to be a symbol of Christchurch's progress as well as providing a powerful connection to our city's past.

The Church Property Trustees (CPT) have been fairly concerned that were they to restore at an estimated cost of $104 million, they would have had a huge funding gap to straddle. Excepting the conditional, albeit likely, offers that have been on the table, the Anglican Church's insurance payout of $42m would leave them $62m in the hole, and that does not take in the cost of insuring and maintaining the building.

While the Christ Church Cathedral's fate has been in in limbo, commercial and civic development of the heart of the city ...

While the Christ Church Cathedral's fate has been in in limbo, commercial and civic development of the heart of the city have stalled.

No matter what people say they want to see in Cathedral Square, matching that enthusiasm for restoration with tens of millions of dollars in donations was always going to be a challenge.

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The new offer is not only more generous, as Bishop Victoria Matthews acknowledged yesterday, but also establishes an independent fundraising trust to find the estimated shortfall of around $14m, which would largely be devoted to the restored building's tower.

That should give the CPT confidence that they would not be the ones going cap in hand for the shortfall. The new proposal also establishes a maintenance/insurance endowment to support ongoing operations, which has been another concern for the CPT.

The total package of $90.7m, which includes the Church's insurance payout, is enough to remove financial concerns as an obstacle to restoring the cathedral but the Anglican Synod may still choose not to restore for other reasons, be they spiritual, practical or aesthetic.

That is their right but the reality is that any choice other than restoration is likely to see the Church tied up in legal proceedings by the same heritage advocates who have stalled the Church's declared preference for a new building.

In  announcing the offer Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Nicky Wagner said, "this is not about favouring reinstatement over restoration or a contemporary build. It's about finding a way forward that doesn't leave everyone tied up in court for five to 10 years."

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To say that the only feasible way to get progress soon is to restore is, however, favouring one option. And as that option is more expensive than a new building, it is appropriate that the Government and Christchurch City Council should be opening their wallets to help facilitate it.

Commercial and civic development of the heart of the city have stalled because of the munted pigeon rookery at its core. That is not the Church's responsibility but it is a concern for the rest of Christchurch.

Although it may not be ideal to be spending $35m of taxpayer and ratepayer funds to get an outcome, we have to accept that six years after the heavens struck down the Cathedral, "ideal" is but a speck in the rear view mirror.

 - Stuff


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