25 May 2017

Bishop blames Brownlee for Chch cathedral delay

9:00 pm on 25 May 2017

Anglican Bishop for Christchurch Victoria Matthews has blamed Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee for the delays in deciding the future of the city's cathedral.

On Sunday, Ms Matthews announced the decision over the derelict building, which has sat like a weeping wound in the heart of Christchurch since the earthquakes, would be made by the church's synod, made up of 200 clergy and elected members of the local diocese.

This would not take place until September.

Today in an opinion piece published in The Press Ms Matthews denied this was delaying a decision further, saying it was "just over three months away".

Instead she said the delay was due to court action and to the travel schedule of Mr Brownlee, when he was both the rebuild minister and minister of defence.

"After the court cases were behind us there was the kind offer of the Crown to assist the church. Unfortunately this offer of assistance morphed into a series of delays while the then-Minister for the Regeneration of Greater Christchurch was unavoidably out of the country as the Government Minister of Defence. These delays were not caused by the church."

The bishop wrote that one of her favourite questions to ponder was: "What do people mean when they say our cathedral in the Square is an icon?"

She also asked whether the money the government proposed to spend on the cathedral would be better spent on the rising number of young people suffering mental health problems in the city.

"Another question I ask is whether the hurting city of Christchurch will be better helped by fixing this broken building or by attending to the pain of the people who are still suffering."

In response Mr Brownlee said at no point was his availability an issue for the Church Property Trustees and he found the suggestion "deeply disappointing".

"The government offer of help was made late last year and I was not out of the country again until March. In the lead-up to the offer, I made myself available to meet with the CPT at their request but an invitation was not forthcoming. However, the bishop was available to meet with me on two occasions last year."

A cross-party meeting between Labour and Green MPs and the new rebuild minister, Nicky Wagner, will take place tomorrow.

Ms Wagner has already said she would like to see a decision on the fate of the cathedral before September's synod vote.

Special legislation gives her the power to compulsorily acquire any buildings in Christchurch in order to aid the city's recovery, but she has so far said she was reluctant to do this.

'The power resides with the government' - Chch mayor

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said if the Anglican Church would not agree to restoring the cathedral then the government should buy it off it.

Ms Dalziel said if it voted to decline the government's offer to help bankroll the cathedral's restoration and opted instead to demolish it, then the government should step in.

"The power resides with the government under the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Legislation and I would encourage them to consider using that under those circumstances."

Ms Dalziel said any demolition resource consent the church might apply for would be subject to lengthy legal challenges, which could delay a decision for years.

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