Eugenie Sage

ChristChurch Cathedral and heritage important for city’s future

by Eugenie Sage

The demolition of the ChristChurch Cathedral’s spire is expected to begin on Monday.

On Saturday, I’ll be attending a rally, organised by Restore the Christchurch Cathedral and led by the Wizard, outside the Anglican Church’s Christchurch synod meeting. We are gathering from 8.15 am for a silent vigil and then for a rally from 10.30am outside St Christopher’s Church on Avonhead Road. The Wizard is leading another rally on Sunday outside the Canterbury Museum at noon.

The Restore the Christchurch Cathedral group have also launched an online petition calling for the restoration of the Cathedral.

ChristChurch Cathedral has long been more than a church. It is a city icon and major landmark.  It has sheltered many people of many faiths and been a place of dialogue, of music, art and creativity as well as reflection and prayer. The wider public needs to be involved in decisions about its future. We haven’t been because of CERA’s draconian powers and the way in which it can override and undermine decisions normally made by councils.

Denying the public a voice is profoundly disempowering, both for heritage and recovery.

ChristChurch Cathedral is a Category 1 historic place designed by two architects celebrated for their Gothic revival buildings, George Gilbert Scott from the UK and New Zealander, Benjamin Mountfort. It is built largely of Canterbury stone, including large basalt blocks, a reminder that volcanoes as well as earthquakes have shaped our landscapes. It is a crucial part of the city’s built heritage. With the Arts Centre, the Canterbury Provincial Chambers and the Canterbury Museum it forms a precinct of Victorian Gothic Revival buildings.

ChristChurch Cathdral and Cathedral Square before the earthquakes

In any other part of New Zealand, the demolition of a Category 1 historic building would almost certainly involve a publicly notified resource consent application under the RMA with the  public able to make submissions and if necessary, appeal the Council’s decision to the Environment Court.

The emergency period post quakes is long gone. Yet CERA’s powers continue to throttle democracy and deny community and public involvement in virtually all significant decisions about our place and our city of Christchurch.   Who makes the crucial decisions, and how and why is increasingly opaque. Since Minister Brownlee’s “old dungers” comment,  the public have been shut out and CERA has facilitated the destruction of Christchurch’s heritage character and identity.

International architects, engineers, stonemasons and organisations are offering their expertise, advice and funding support to help restore ChristChurch Cathedral. Engineers say that the Cathedral can be made safe and restored at a cost that is a lot less than the $100 million figure previously quoted by the Bishop.

Making safe and rebuilding the Cathedral would contribute to the city’s recovery. It would use the best skills of architects, artisans, stonemasons, engineers, fund raisers and many others from New Zealand and abroad.  It would show what we can achieve, rather than want we can’t.  It would be a project which would signify recovery far more than any cardboard edifice.

Allowing demolition crews and their diggers to make another blank and empty space in the city’s heart – Cathedral Square – would add to the ugly emptiness of the sites of the former Warner’s and Press buildings. It would impede recovery by causing more loss, and further destruction of memory and our sense of place.

Restoration will take time. Yet what’s the rush?  The  construction of Barcelona’s world renowned Sagrada Familia started in 1882. It was not consecrated until 2010 and is not expected to be completed until 2026, a century after the death of its architect Antoni Gaudi. Yet it is a World Heritage site used, visited and celebrated by thousands each year.

CERA needs to hit the pause button now on the demolition of ChristChurch Cathedral and other heritage buildings. We have lost so much already. There must be public discussion about options to retain the Cathedral and other buildings.

We can rebuild a progressive, beautiful and sustainable city. Knowing and celebrating our past helps creates a strong foundation for the future.

An online petition asking CERA to stop the destruction of Christchurch heritage buildings has also been set up. It calls for engineers, heritage architecture specialists, heritage groups and the citizens of Christchurch to have more time and a say in the fate of remaining buildings in danger of demolition.  You can add your voice to ours.

Published in Environment & Resource Management | Justice & Democracy | Society & Culture by Eugenie Sage on Fri, April 20th, 2012   

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