Public divided over council plans to help rebuild Christchurch Cathedral

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Christchurch Cathedral has lain in ruins since the devastating 2011 earthquake in New Zealand. Now, a plan to rebuild boosted by a $10 million City Council grant is the subject of an outcry against the use of public funds to restore the Anglican cathedral church.

Radio New Zealand reports:

In September, the Anglican Synod voted to restore the building, which came with various funding pledges, including a $10 million grant from the Christchurch City Council. 

But after public consultation, the council found the majority of residents did not believe ratepayers should foot part of the bill, with just over half of the 1063 people who made submissions against it.

Spreydon resident, Janet Begg, was among them, and she said the Christchurch City Council should not waste a cent of ratepayer’s money on it.

“It’s not one of the core functions of the Christchurch City Council … we have far more important things to be doing,” she said. “We are supposed to be a secular country and our rates should not be used to prop up the Anglicans.”

The campaign to restore the cathedral, at a cost of $104m, already came with significant financial support, including a separate $25m pledge from the government.

The Greater Christchurch Building Trust pledged another $13.5m, and believed it could raise more money.

The Anglican Church’s insurance proceeds, $42m, would also be used.

In October, the Christchurch City Council voted that its $10m contribution, if passed, would be raised through targeted rates.

An opinion piece by Ric Stevens published in The Press disagreed:

The broken church has sat at the heart of the city since the February 2011 earthquake, a symbol of division and discord. It cannot be allowed to remain like that much longer. Everyone is heartily sick of the endless debate and squabbling – let us not open up that can of worms again.

One fifth of the council’s submitters did not feel the cathedral was a priority for the city – an arguable position, given the amount of discord the broken building has caused.

However, the council’s finances are stretched and rates are rising steeply, so it is understandable that some people object to being asked to stump up to fix a broken church.

Some of the opposing submissions state that the Anglican Church is a rich institution, a private organisation and not a public body, and should pay for the restoration itself.

But people stating this view are forgetting that the Church did not want to restore the building – it wanted to replace it with a cheaper, contemporary structure.

It acquiesced to public opinion and the threat of expensive litigation to effect a compromise. It would be wrong now to expect the Church to pay more millions for a solution that it didn’t actually want.

The Canterbury Star included a selection of public comments, for and against the City Council grant, including the observation that,

“Our city is named Christchurch which literally means Christ’s Church therefore the cathedral is the symbol of the city. It is also the centre of the city which needs to be regenerated if we are to avoid having a dead core to it.”

The proposal is also supported by the stonemasonry industry, according to Radio NZ:

The council grant also had the backing of the New Zealand Stone Mason’s Association, and its spokesperson, Paul Gautron, said it would give some stone masons a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“The chance to train apprentices, to give them the experience of working on a project like that, it’s not something that happens on a regular basis [anywhere in the world],” he said. “It would be an honour for any stone mason to work on that building.”

The council will discuss the public feedback on Thursday.

Photo: Drone footage of Christchurch Cathedral, May 2016, via cathedralconversation.co.nz

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