Ratepayer bailout of Christ Church Cathedral rebuild 'not palatable' - councillor

9:44 pm on 8 April 2024
Christ Church Cathedral

(File photo) Photo: RNZ / Adam Burns

A Christchurch councillor says the group behind the cathedral rebuild needs to look at other options.

The Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Trust said on Friday the cost of rebuilding the iconic building had ballooned from $104 million to $248m, following a four-month project review.

It needs a further $30 million by August, when a meeting would be held on whether to mothball the project.

Christchurch Central ward councillor Jake McLellan told Checkpoint that since the budget blowout had been revealed, ratepayers had told him they would not be comfortable paying more towards the rebuild.

Instead, the trust needed to look at other options, he said. "Are the Anglicans putting their hands in their pockets?"

The trust also needed to look at winding back the scope of the project, he said.

McLellan would be meeting with the trust on Thursday to discuss the future of the rebuild.

"This is all early days, but we need to look at all other options - including reducing the scope - because $30 million just to keep work going until 2025... The budget hole that I can see is actually $88m - that's not palatable at the moment."

Asked how the rebuild might be scaled back, he questioned whether administrative buildings were necessary.

"It's the ancillary buildings - there's quite a bit of event space tacked on to the [new] site."

The rebuild had been a controversial project ever since the 2011 earthquake destroyed much of the building, he said.

"And it's still controversial. Ratepayers have already put money in and whether they want to put more in is something that remains to be seen."

The cathedral was "hugely important" to the city's identity, he added.

"I don't want to see it mothballed, but that doesn't mean to say that the city's going to swoop in and come up with a large cash contribution.

"It is at the heart of Christchurch. It's the building people think of when they think of Christchurch and [it would be] quite symbolic to have it completed - it [would say] we've really turned the page on the earthquakes."

Need to 'move forward' - Business Canterbury CEO

On The Panel, Business Canterbury chief executive Leeann Watson said the funding hole announcement had been "tough to hear" both personally and for the wider community.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

"This has been an ongoing debate for many, many years post-earthquakes as to what we need to do to ensure that we can rebuild as a city, to make sure that some of those iconic places, such as the cathedral, [which have been] an important part of our history and they'll be an important part of our future."

Despite its ruined appearance, the cathedral continued to draw tourists to the central city, she said.

"It's really important that whatever we do, we make some decisions and we move forward.

"One of the things we don't want is ... that image [of a ruined cathedral] to portray where Christchurch is up to as a city. Because all you've got to do is go a block either side - so, along Oxford Terrace, where all of the new bars and eateries and retailers [are].

"We've got the Riverside Market, which has become equally a huge asset and an icon for the city... if you positioned yourself there, and you looked at [the city], you'd go, 'Wow, Christchurch is back'.

"This is a world-class city with new amenities... and if you go another block, the other side [of the cathedral], you've got our new convention centre, which is also a world-class facility.

"So what we don't want is for that image of the broken cathedral to be the perception of what people think of Christchurch, because actually the new Christchurch is well and truly back, and we've got some amazing things happening in the city."

She did not believe the rebuild should come at any cost, and pointed out it was not the first Christchurch project to face unexpected costs.

"It can't just be an open chequebook. We need to make sure we are exploring all options to complete this piece of work, and that may require some rethinking of what it takes to complete it... We need to be realistic about what we can afford."

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