Editorial: City's grant to cathedral too generous

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The Very Reverend Jo Kelly-Moore at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell. Photo / Ted Baghurst
The Very Reverend Jo Kelly-Moore at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell. Photo / Ted Baghurst

The Holy Trinity Cathedral occupies a special place in the life and landscape of Auckland. It is one of the city's grandest structures and the venue for state funerals of its grandest citizens.

Widely renowned, in particular, are the cathedral's Pacific Gothic design and stained-glass windows. But, as tends to be the way, the Anglican Church wants something even more impressive. In the process, it has courted controversy by seeking and receiving a $3 million grant from the Auckland Council.

This sum ensures the go-ahead for a $12 million project that includes the building of a glass-walled chapel at the south end of the cathedral and the rebuilding of its organ.

The council's strategy and finance committee approved the grant 10-6, but only after a debate that traversed various objections.

Among these were the singling-out of one religious group for such a large grant, and the very notion of such largesse when some Aucklanders are struggling to pay rates and put food on their tables.

Both these views hold some water. But they pay no heed to the cathedral's important place in the community. If the members of the committee erred, it was in the magnitude of their generosity. A more reasonable marker was thrown down by the former Auckland City Council's $30,000 grant towards the $1.3 million upgrade of St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral.

If that cathedral also benefited from a $9.2 million upgrading of St Patrick's Square, this at least involved city-owned land and improvements of value to all ratepayers.

Another six-figure sum would have signified the council's backing for the Holy Trinity project without raising the ire of atheists and others critical of so much money going to the Anglican Church. The cathedral would have had to exercise other options in seeking that big slice of funding.

One of these would have been enlisting further benefactors such as real estate firm Barfoot & Thompson, which has donated $500,000 towards the project. Another would be the likes of lottery grants.

If the cathedral had taken this path, it would have been acknowledging the many competing and pressing claims on council funding. Councillor Sandra Coney was right to point out that the $3 million grant should be considered alongside "what we don't do because we have no money". Fixing vandalised graves at Waikumete Cemetery was one of these things, she said. Such activities, of course, pale alongside the glamour of adding to an already impressive cathedral.

The council grant means Holy Trinity has raised $8.1 million. It hopes work will be finished in time for the bicentenary of Christianity in New Zealand on Christmas Day next year.

There might have been no chance of meeting that deadline if the council had supplied a far smaller sum. The cathedral might have had to rein in its ambition. Either way, there would have been no great harm.

Holy Trinity has been built in stages since 1959. In an ideal world, this would continue with the completion of the latest project in time for the bicentenary. But it would be funded from sources other than the council. The project might take longer, but the building of cathedrals has always been measured in decades and centuries. Better that timetable than one that puts Holy Trinity offside with some Aucklanders.

- NZ Herald

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