Like most of us you are probably wondering what is happening to the Anglican Cathedral in the Square. I asked Ivan Thompson to write a few lines and here is what he wrote:
One of the liveliest public debates post-earthquake centred on the future of the severely damaged Christ Church Cathedral. In late 2015, with the consent of Church Property Trustees, the Government appointed independent consultant Miriam Dean QC to investigate and deliver a report into the future of Christ Church Cathedral. This report confirmed the cost of reinstating the Cathedral in a form indistinguishable from what it was prior to the earthquakes at $105 million based on a completion timeline of 2022. It also stated that reinstatement would require repair, restoration, and reconstruction.
Since the release of the findings of this report, Church Property Trust formed a working group with the Government to investigate whether the issues of cost and safety outlined in the report are able to be addressed in order to reinstate Christ Church Cathedral to its pre earthquake appearance.
Following a report and recommendations of the Cathedral Working Group (CWG) in 2016 the matter was resolved in 2017 with the passing of the Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Act. This Act fulfils part of the Government’s offer to support the reinstatement of the Cathedral, and was supported by the City Council pledging $10 million towards the project. . Christ Church Reinstatement Limited (CCRL), a joint venture company, is responsible for delivering the reinstatement.
Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Act
The purpose of this Act is ‘to facilitate reinstatement of the Cathedral, recognising its contribution to cultural, social, and economic wellbeing in Christchurch, its importance to Christchurch’s regeneration, and its heritage value.
At the risk of over- simplification the Act is about restoring the Cathedral back to its ‘former glory’ as quickly and as cost effectively as possible. Of course, the restoration would incorporate modern features such as base isolation and other features to bring the building up to required safety and amenity standards.
The Act provides for the Minister (the Associate Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration) to issue an Order in Council that enables her to amend the District Plan and other specified Resource Management Act documents.
Order in Council (OIC)
On 29 May the Minister released, for public comment, an Explanation Document for the Proposed Christ Church Cathedral Resource Management Act-Reinstatement) Order 2020. The closing date for comment is June 22.
The OIC proposed to amend the Christchurch District Plan and other RMA documents to expedite the resource consent process for the reinstatement. It does this by making all works a ‘controlled activity’ which means the Council cannot decline resource consent for activities to do with reinstatement and can exercise control only over specified matters. There is no public notification for controlled activities, but specified parties are required to be invited to make written comment eg the Christchurch Civic Trust.
Citizens War Memorial
The Explanation Document states that the reinstatement work will require CWM to be moved. The possibility of relocating the CWM was raised in the CWG report to make better use of the northern side of the Cathedral. That report however did not canvas the cost and heritage implications of the relocation.
The Explanation document mentions the following reasons as to why the Memorial needs to be moved:
- It reduces the safe and efficient working space around the Cathedral;
- Working around it will be a dangerous and therefore lengthy and expensive process;
- There could be damage to the Memorial;
- There is the opportunity to redevelop this part of the site to create a more functional visitors’ centre and open landscape that will complement Cathedral Square.
The OIC could facilitate relocating the CWM within the Square on Council land but a resource consent would be needed to relocate it somewhere else.
London Plane Trees
The Explanation Document states that the work may require, if necessary, removing up to three London Plane Trees that are protected in the District Plan. While it should be possible to safely work round them during stabilisation, it is not known how the trees will impact on reinstatement until later on. The canopy of one of the trees is also close to the proposed southern ancillary building.
There is a strong implication that CCRL and CPT want to use the special powers to do more than merely reinstate the Cathedral within the current building footprint. They see it as an opportunity to extend the visitor central and possibly establish another (ancillary buildings) without going through normal RMA processes.
There may be good reasons for this (e.g. improving the functionality of the Cathedral) but none of the is explained in the Explanation Document out for feedback. There is no proposal in the Document that would give the public confidence that the CWM (or the Plane Trees) actually need to be removed or modified in order to reinstate the Cathedral. Nor is there any explanation of the costs and the risks of moving or even dismantling this important heritage feature, and potential adverse effects on the environment. It is likely that these matters will have been discussed with the Council’s resource consent staff but such discussions are usually ‘without prejudice’ and are confidential.
In conclusion there is no certainty or visibility for the community on what the final outcome will be, not just for the land owned by the Cathedral, but for the Square as a whole. Nor is there adequate information in the Explanatory Document for the public to be satisfied that removal of the Citizens War Memorial is either necessary or desirable. There is an argument for a more considered balance to be taken between ensuring that the Cathedral is safely and efficiently restored in the shortest timeframe possible while protecting the integrity of other heritage items in the Square.
Further information can be found in the report on Agenda Item 27 at the 11 June meeting of the Christchurch city Council. The debate on this item can be viewed at http://councillive.ccc.govt.nz/live-stream