National looks to save seats with more money for Cathedral
By Richard Harman (author)
Christchurch Cathedral is now likely to be restored as the Government finds more money in a bid to hold its support in Christchurch.
Canterbury Recovery Minister Nicky Wagener is due to make an announcement on the Cathedral’s future today.
She will be joined by Christchurch Mayor, Lianne Dalziel, who has made her support for restoration very clear in recent months.
The announcement is believed to include an increase in Government funding for the project --- possibly as much as $35 million --- along with another $10 million from the Council.
In the background is $15 million which has been raised by former Ministers, Jim Anderton and Philip Burdon.
That will dramatically reduce the funding gap for restoration which has worried the Anglican Church.
It will end what has now been a six year standoff between the Government and the Anglican Church set against a background of growing impatience in the city over the derelict Cathedral still occupying the centre of the Square.
Writing in yesterday's "Press", restoration campaigner and former National Minister, Philip Burdon, said Wagener's electoral prospects would be substantially affected by her success or failure in brokering a solution to the restoration of the Christ Church Cathedral which she had committed herself to resolve before the election.
"If she can do that she deserves to be re-elected," he said..
The Church has commissioned a number of reports for the Synod which essentially propose two alternatives.
On the one hand, it could demolish the existing Cathedral and rebuild a new one on the same site using only the $42 million insurance money it has collected.
Or it could restore the existing Cathedral for between $104 and $117 million which would leave a funding gap of up to $75 million.
Last December the Government offered $25 million to break the deadlock over the Cathedral.
The-then Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Gerry Brownlee said he was "surprised and disappointed" no restoration deal had been made for the earthquake-damaged cathedral. The Government offered $10m in cash and a $15m loan to help restore the building.
The funding pledge was made to Anglican leaders in December and also included an offer to handle resource consents and set up a project management office for the restoration, he said.
It is thought that the Government’s increased offer gives rise to optiomism that this new financial package will get the agreement of the Anglican Church's Synod due to meet in September which has previously opposed restoration.
Speakers at National’s Mainland conference in Christchurch in May called for a decision on the future of the Cathedral saying continued uncertainty about its future was holding up the completion of the rebuild of the central city.
The biggest obstacle to the restoration is believed to be Bishop Victoria Matthews and her insistence that the Anglican Church should be left to make the decision on the future of the Cathedral itself.
In May eight religious leaders from all the major Christian denominations – including Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic wrote a letter to The Press calling for Anglicans to be "left to make decisions as to the future of the cathedral".
Also in May Bishop Matthews told RNZ’s “Checkpoint”. “Is this the time to reinstate a heritage building that in England would be seen as a large parish church? Regarding a global significance, it's not the Taj Mahal," Bishop Matthews told Checkpoint with John Campbell.
Bishop Matthews asked whether it was appropriate to spend money on repairing a building, when there was a greater need for spending in the city on services such as mental health and housing.
"I don't think people's pain is addressed by reinstating a building, so I think the money is better spent helping people. And right from the beginning we have said 'people before buildings'."
Christchurch’s Mayor, Lianne Dalziel, however, believes any decision not to restore the heritage building will provoke legal challenges that could go on for years.
Dalziel told a Council meeting a fortnight ago there was only one decision the synod could make in September that would provide certainty - voting for restoration.
"If the synod makes the decision not to restore the Cathedral, we will have uncertainty for years, and that is something I don't think the city can tolerate.
"I think there is only one decision that actually takes us forward as a city. And there is no other decision that will lead to anything else other than uncertainty and legal wrangles for years."