Editorial: Scrap over costs for Christ Church Cathedral spills into General Election

Government figures put the Anglican church's restoration estimate for Christ Church Cathedral as $23 million too high.
Joseph Johnson

Government figures put the Anglican church's restoration estimate for Christ Church Cathedral as $23 million too high.

Given this week's Labour Party's leadership ructions, all eyes nationally are now on campaigning for September 23's General Election, just 51 days away.

But in Christchurch, a campaign to influence another important vote just two weeks before that is making for an intriguing sub-plot.

On the weekend of September 8/9 at St Christopher's in Avonhead, the Christchurch Synod will vote to decide the fate of the Christ Church Cathedral. As we have heard endlessly, opinion is split over whether to restore the current building or to build a new, contemporary cathedral.

On Tuesday, Christchurch Regeneration Minister Nicky Wagner released Government documents that contradicted what the Church Property Trustees (CPT), who manage Anglican properties, have been telling Synod members about the costs of those options.

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The Government states it would cost $104 million to restore the cathedral, compared to the $127.2m figure quoted to Synod members by Anglican leaders. And the Government's estimate of $80m to build a new cathedral, is $37m more than CPT's estimate of $43m.

In other words, according to the Government the Church is overestimating the savings of a choosing a new build over restoration by $60m.

The Church's share of the cost of restoration is reduced, of course, by the package of support for the restoration option only from the Crown, Christchurch City Council and Great Christchurch Buildings Trust that adds up to $48m.

The point of both the package of support and the restating of the Government's cost estimates is to convince the Church that restoration is the only viable option.

"The whole point is to clarify things so everyone is on the same page. One of the problems we have had is, 'One side says this and the other side says that'," said Wagner.

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She said restoring the cathedral was the only deal on the table. "If that doesn't happen, we have got to start all over again."

A significant faction of the Church, including the Bishop herself, prefers a new build. In presentations to individual parishes ahead of September's Synod meeting, parishioners are being told the $127.2m figure to restore the cathedral and that it would take 15 years to restore the building instead of the seven years stated in the CWG report.

As in the General Election campaign, both sides are campaigning for the merits of their preferred vision and the results of the campaign to influence the Synod vote may end up influencing the national vote.

The flurry of attention from the Government is designed to position Wagner as the master negotiator who can resolve the long-running standoff just prior to the election.

If the Synod votes for restoration, the Government will sigh with relief and Wagner will be able to trumpet the good news to Christchurch Central voters.

But should Synod vote for a new build, she faces the prospect of the most significant building in her electorate standing as a symbol of ruin and acrimony while the inevitable legal fight drags on.

That result would make Wagner, whose portfolio means she is the Government's face of progress in Christchurch, look ineffective.

The scrap over the cathedral is not just about buildings, money, or even the role of the Church in the 21st century. It has become personal, and a scrap for political survival.

 - Stuff

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