Christchurch Cathedral

About Us…the Restore Christchurch Cathedral Campaign

We represent the diverse community of people who support full restoration of Christ Church Cathedral. We welcome support of all people, please join us and help us save the cathedral.

A  Short History…Christchurch Cathedral

The building of Christchurch Cathedral by first settlers began just 14 years after the city was founded. The ambitious design by leading architects George Gilbert Scott and Benjamin Mountfort took 40 years to complete and is the jewel in the crown of  Christchurch’s renowned Victorian Gothic architecture. Construction of the cathedral was a huge undertaking for a small community and only made possible by gifts of land, money and work from the early settlers. In many ways the cathedral, located at the heart of the city, expressed the city founders spiritual and civic aspirations and in time became the symbol of the city’s identity. Over recent decades, the people of Christchurch continued to pay for maintenance and earthquake strengthening, contributing to the building’s withstanding of the recent quakes.

The Christchurch Earthquakes

The cathedral was severely damaged by major earthquakes that hit Christchurch over a period of about 18 months from September 2010 to summer 2012.

About 80% of the original building still stands with the roof structure entirely intact and as straight as an arrow.  Over the last year or so the earthquakes have tappered off to small and infrequent events and no further damage to the building has occurred.

The Church Elects to Demolish while Top Engineers Want Restoration

In February 2012 the Church Property Trustees (CPT) chaired by Bishop Victoria Matthews elected to have the building demolished in accordance with a Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) process for earthquake damaged buildings. Within a short time over 100 leading structural and seismic engineers proclaimed that there was no need for demolition and that the cathedral could be restored fully to its former glory and with modern seismic engineering could be made safe to the highest level of the new codes for public buildings in New Zealand. In other words the restored cathedral would be as safe as any new post-quake buildings in Christchurch.

Campaign to Save the Cathedral Launched

Confident of the support of the expert engineering community the Restore Christchurch Cathedral (RCC) campaign was launched. First we met with the Bishop and other Church leaders and attempted to persuade and assist them to embrace the restoration option. RCC also lobbied politicians and civic leaders, launched a media campaign, and held a hugely successful public rally. Sadly the Church leaders spurned all offers for assistance and continued to insist demolition was the “only safe option” (sic).

Compelled to Court Action

About this time it became apparent the Church had no interest in restoration and the only hope of stopping demolition of the cathedral was through the Courts.

In June 2012 the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust (GCBT) challenged the Church’s (CPT) legal right to proceed with demolition and ignore requests from the community. Judge Chisholm subsequently directed the Church to consider all options and consult with the public. He also found that the CPT was within its rights to demolish and erect a new cathedral.  The GCBT did not agree with Judge Chisholm that the church may choose to replace the original cathedral and in April 2013 lodged an appeal.  The Appeals Court has upheld Judge Chisholm’s that there in nothing in the language of the CPT’s Deed of Trust that precludes destroying the cathedral.

The Church’s Consultation on 3 Options

Meantime the Church has gone through a consultation process which it completed in may 2013. It put three ‘costed’ options for consideration:

1.      Full restoration (this was the first time the Church acknowledged full  and safe restoration was possible and an acceptable outcome to them)

2.      A traditional looking replica built to the same footprint and scale

3.      A modern or contemporary design

The church then argued on the basis of bizarre timelines and escalted costs that restoration could take up to 22 years and cost up to $225 million

The GCBT Solution Proposal

Meantime GCBT put a solution proposal to the Church. It presented detailed plans by an Independent Panel of Expert Engineers for initial stablisation and make-safe work and offered to fund all costs for this work (approx. $7.9 million) and to start this work immediately.  GCBT also presented its own cost estimates based on the Church’s restoration plan and costings, except it assummed an immediate start and completion within 7 years. GCBT, on the advice of independent engineers, also excluded base isolation work as being unnecessary.

The revised costing for full restoration is $67 million.

The Church has about $40 million in insurance payouts for restoration of the cathedral.  This leaves a funding gap of about $27 million. The GCBT has offered to help raise the additional money required and is confident this can be achieved.

Chen Palmer Legal Opinion

RCC engaged public law specialists Chen-Palmer to explore other legal avenues to stop demolition. Chen-Palmer advised that the legislation governing Heritage Zealand (HNZ) should prevent them from signing off on the building’s demolition. If HNZ did not act on this advice and proceeded to give approval for demolition RCC would take all legal action required to enjoin that destruction.

Colmar Brunton Poll

In September 2014, The GCBT commissioned a Colmar Brunton Poll on the future of the cathedral following a brief advertising campaign to remind the public that the cathedral was not a ruin. The key finding was that a majority favoured restoring the cathedral (51%). This increased to 66% if the costs of restoration were met by private donations rather than ratepayer funding.

Deane Report ( December 2015)

In October 2015 the Government appointed Auckland lawyer, Miriam Deane to facilitate engagement between the engineering experts of the GCBT and the Church property trustees to try and agree on engineering options for repair, restoration or replacement, as these issues had not been dealt with in the litigation between the parties.  There was a general consensus by the engineers that the cathedral could be strengthened and  reinstated to the extent that for most people it would be indistinguishable from the pre-eathquake building.

Cathedral Working Group 

In June 2016, the Government announced the formation of a working group to consider options for the cathedral. The working group comprised two appointees of the C P T, two of the Government and one person appointed following consultation with the GCBT. The report was delivered to the Government in December 2016  and an announcement on the future of the cathedral was expected by Christmas 2016.  Unfortunately, agreement was unable to be reached and negotiations continued into 2017.  The Government  indicated that it had committed 10 million and the GCBT undertook to raise 15 million. The Church was asked to commit its insurance money leaving a shortfall of around $30 million to be raised over a number of years.  The Church remained unconvinced that the necessary funds could be raised, resulting in a further offer from the  Government to loan $15 while fundraising took place. This offer did not result in the hoped for breakthrough in negotiations. In May 2017, the Bishop announced that a decision would be made by Synod in September 2017.

Public release of the Cathedral Working Group Report

Having reached an apparent impasse in negotiations, the Government now released the Working Group Report.  This is a very thorough, well researched and well-considered document. It very clearly recommends restoration, although this would include updating of utilities and services within the building to make it more fit for purpose.  It also recommends base isolation, which meant the overall cost was higher than anticipated by the GCBT proposal.  While earthquake strengthening can be achieved without base isolation, it offers the advantage of greater security against damage in any subsequent large scale events and would also allow strengthening to take place with less impact on the heritage fabric of the building.   On the issue of fundraising, which appears to be a major sticking point for the Church, a report by professional fundraisers commissioned by the Working Party, expresses a high level of confidence that a sum of 55 million could be raised in 3-5 years. This sum represents the amount needed on top of the insurance sum and the 10 million offered by the Government.

Synod Decision 

On Saturday September 9 Synod voted to restore the Cathedral.