A High Court judge has stepped in to halt the demolition of
the earthquake-crippled Christ Church Cathedral.
Justice Lester Chisholm ordered all demolition work to stop
immediately until further notice after ruling the future of
the cathedral is "legitimately in the public arena" and
"plainly a matter of intense public interest".
The Great Christchurch Buildings Trust (GCBT) took the
neo-Gothic style cathedral's owners, the Church Property
Trust (CPT), to court last month in a last-ditch legal bid to
have it repaired.
The cathedral was badly damaged in the killer February 22,
2011 quake, which snapped its spire.
Its damaged state prompted the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery
Authority (Cera) to issue a section 38 unsafe building
notice, which demanded urgent action.
Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews announced plans to
deconstruct the cathedral to a safe level of 2-3 metres above
the ground earlier this year.
The decision sparked public protests and the GCBT, led by
former MP Jim Anderton, battled to save the landmark city
They sought a declaratory court judgment to determine whether
the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch's decision to
deconstruct breached an Act of Parliament designed to protect
Today Justice Chisholm agreed the historic building's
custodians were acting outside the Church Properties Trust
Act 2003 when they decided to deconstruct earlier this year.
He granted an application for judicial review which meant
demolition work must be halted.
No timeframe was given for the review, but Justice Lester
stressed it should happen "as soon as possible".
He ruled that the church's trust requires there to be a
cathedral building on its exact Cathedral Square site.
But he further stated that the building does "not necessarily
have to replicate the cathedral as it stood before the
"After giving the matter considerable thought I have
concluded that the court should intervene and that it would
be inappropriate to refuse relief altogether," the judge
writes in his 200-paragraph decision.
He said he was influenced by seven matters.
Given the "intense and legitimate" public interest, he said
the court would be falling short in its duty if it failed to
ensure that the decision-making process was properly
He said the CPT, while having to make a difficult and complex
decision under tight time pressures, was wrong to think its
cathedral trust was there only for the advancement of
religion and maintenance of the ecclesiastical institution,
not particular buildings.
There was a "misunderstanding" within the church over how it
could spend its insurance money and he raised concerns over
"informal" intentions by the church over rebuilding on the
"An informal intention can be overtaken by events," he said.
"It is also possible that the project will lose impetus once
the transitional (cardboard) cathedral has been built."
The High Court hearing, held in Christchurch on October 3 and
4, had also "exposed contestable issues" about engineering,
cost, and other aspects that were not before the CPT when it
made its decision to deconstruct.
The CPT can now consider the new information, Justice
In summing up, he said: "In my view these matters provide a
compelling case for the court to intervene and grant relief."
Bishop Matthews says the church would consider the decision.
"We are pleased the decision to deconstruct the old cathedral
and rebuild a new cathedral was confirmed by the judge," she
said in a statement on behalf of CPT.
"As we have said since March the new design will be a mixture
of old and new and it will be beautiful."