A new cathedral and a new future

The time for arguing and court cases should be over, and the Anglican Church should be left to go ahead and build its new cathedral in the centre of Christchurch.

The Court of Appeal, in a unanimous decision, last week decided the demolition of what remained of the former cathedral could legally go ahead.

However, while that should be that - the case having already gone through the High Court - campaigners are vowing to battle on. Work is being considered for a possible Supreme Court bid, and if the New Zealand Historic Places Trust now grants a demolition order that might be challenged.

When all is said and done, despite its central role as a symbol of Christchurch and its place in the city centre, the cathedral was primarily an Anglican place of worship built by the church and owed by the church.

It should, therefore, be up to the members and the hierarchy of the church to decide on the replacement.

Nevertheless, it was appropriate to consult the public. The church is, after all, part of its community.

And the cathedral was a potent symbol for Christchurch and at its geographic centre. It was inextricably linked to the city's identity and its people.

Even the council has the former cathedral incorporated into its logo, although pictures incorporating the cathedral have disappeared from their former prominent place on the council's website home page.

But everything changed on that disastrous day, February 22, 2011. The city has been laid waste and the cathedral, which had withstood violent earthquakes in 1881, 1888, 1901, 1922 and on September 2, 2010, was not spared.

A new Christchurch is slowly beginning to emerge and a new cathedral can be part of that rebirth and that future.

It seems the complete restoration would have cost $104 million to $221 million and taken six and a-half to 22 years. A traditional option, in new materials, had been costed at $85 million to $181 million with a five- to 22-year timetable.

The contemporary new building was costed at $56 million to $74 million, with four-and-a-half to nine-and-a-half-year planning and construction span.

Is it little wonder most Anglicans, and certainly most Christchurch church leaders and representatives, have been overwhelmingly in favour of the last proposal.

Most of the restoration proponents are not church-going Anglicans, with leading light and former MP Jim Anderton a Catholic.

Whatever they might say about wider city, national and international fundraising, amounts on the scale of an extra $100 million are most unlikely to be forthcoming.

The Government, the city and individuals have many other causes to which to contribute, especially when there is a cathedral alternative. The impecunious church itself would be left to find a well-nigh impossible amount of extra money.

Churches, as they struggle in this increasingly secular age, not only cannot afford vast sums on buildings but also realise they are more about people and mission than bricks and mortar.

They know, too, that returning primarily to old formats and older styles of worship (while they have a place) are a path to slow extinction.

Light, versatile, modern sacred spaces - rather than long rows of pews and a distant worship leader - give the church at least the chance of a brighter future.

With the cluster of expensive inner-city projects, Christchurch will have a new character and a precinct that in 40 years might come to have its own special historic style and ambience.

Just think of how post-1931 earthquake Napier was rebuilt and is now praised for its Art Deco character. The new ''Christ Church'' can be part of the new Christchurch, fitting in but distinctive.

Not far from Christchurch's square will be the restored art centre buildings. They are striking, and can be the powerful link to the city's past.

No doubt debate of the design on the new cathedral will be also vigorous.

Hopefully, though, something memorable can arise. One Christchurch person has put the whole issue bluntly but perhaps not unfairly.

''Please move into the 21st century and create a new icon which will fit into the landscape of our resurging city, not a sad replica of a bygone age.''


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