The Anglican Diocese of Christchurch has announced today that it will consider gifting the earthquake-crippled Christ Church Cathedral to the Government "for the people of New Zealand".
It's been more than six years since the Gothic-style 136-year-old cathedral was badly damaged in the 6.3-magnitude February 22, 2011 earthquake that devastated the Garden City.
Arguments over whether the building in the heart of Christchurch should be restored to its former glory, partly-reinstated, or demolished and replaced with a modern new building have raged between the church, heritage campaigners, and the wider public over the past six-and-a-half years.
Today, in a shock move, the church has announced that members of its Synod will this week consider three, not two, options regarding the future of the Christ Church Cathedral at a series of area meetings.
"The new option is for the Synod to gift the Cathedral building to the Government for the people of New Zealand," the church said in a statement.
The series of area meetings will be completed prior to the formal meeting of Synod held from September 7-9.
The vote on the future of the Christ Church Cathedral will be held by Synod members in the afternoon of September 9, and announced to the public. The synodical decision will be implemented by Church Property Trustees (CPT).
"We love and have always loved the Cathedral building in the Square and we do hear the passion of the people about this great heritage building," Bishop Victoria Matthews said.
"Our concern with CPT committing to full reinstatement has always been about the risk of the cost going over what we are able to commit to the reinstatement.
"For example, if the damage is worse than anticipated, or there is a fundraising shortfall, we would be in serious trouble even with the generous Government offer. We need to be good stewards.
"By gifting the Cathedral building to the Government, it would be reinstated to its former glory and managed by them on behalf of all New Zealanders for use as a public space. I am not saying that will happen but it is a possibility I think we need to put before the Synod."
Of the three options, Option A is for reinstatement of the Cathedral building and would see CPT accept the "generous offer" made on July 4 this year by the Government, which includes a previous $10 million grant and a new $15m suspensory loan. This will be forgiven if the terms of the loan are met.
Alongside the Government's offer is a $10m grant from Christchurch City Council which is subject to public consultation and dependent on whether there is a need for this grant after further fundraising.
The Government's offer package includes a $13.7m pledge from Great Christchurch Buildings Trust. Other costs associated with the option include an endowment to fund the ongoing costs of insurance and maintenance. This reinstatement would be in three steps and each step would proceed only when there is sufficient money for that part of the project.
Option A also includes establishing an independent Fundraising Trust with the Government enacting legislation to streamline project consenting and approval processes. This would involve setting up an unincorporated joint venture (UJV) between CPT and the Fundraising Trust to govern and manage the project.
Option B is to construct "an inspiring highly functional new cathedral" in the Square on the current site, incorporating features and materials from the old cathedral building. The construction of the
new cathedral, including an endowment fund to pay for future ongoing costs of insurance and maintenance, will lie within the $42m of cathedral insurance funds available.
Option C directs CPT to enter into negotiations with the Government for the gifting of the ChristChurch Cathedral building in the Square to the people of New Zealand.
CPT would share its extensive knowledge and experience of the building to assist the Government in its reinstatement. The Diocese would seek permission to use the building for large services such as Easter and Christmas as part of any agreement.
Information will continue to be made available to Synod members, the Diocese and the wider public leading up to Synod's decision in September.
A number of "new and important reports" were recently posted to the Cathedral Conversations website for the consideration of Synod, including the full government proposal. CPT strongly encourages those involved or interested in the decision to review this information.
"In less than a month, the decision about the future of the Cathedral building in the Square will be made," said Bishop Victoria.
"To those who say it has taken far too long, the church agrees, but in fact we have had to spend time in the courts and have experienced other delays such as the Government's offer of assistance. Those two factors together added months and even years to the Diocese's ability to make our decision.
"It is my hope, prayer and expectation that the best possible decision will be made by our Synod, so the city can progress its recovery and the Diocese's vibrant mission and ministry in the name of Jesus Christ can flourish and grow."