New Zealand: Deconstruction of Christchurch Cathedral must wait

By Taonga staff
Posted Nov 15, 2012

[Anglican Taonga] The High Court has halted the deconstruction of Christchurch’s severely damaged cathedral – but only until the Church Property Trustees produce plans and commit to building a new Cathedral in the Square.

The style of the new cathedral will be left to CPT.

Furthermore, the court has ordered that CPT should make “reasonable speed” in building the new cathedral.

Late this afternoon Justice Lester Chisholm handed down its long-awaited decision on whether CPT could continue with its plans to reduce the iconic neo-gothic cathedral to around 2m.

This had been opposed by a group called the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust, which is co-chaired by former MPs Jim Anderton and Philip Burdon.

They had sought a binding court ruling on whether the deconstruction breached an Act of Parliament protecting church buildings.

That action appears, in the long run, to have failed.

Justice Chisholm rules in his written judgment that the church is not legally required to restore the cathedral to its original form.

“Unless the terms of the cathedral trust are varied, either the structure that remains will have to be repaired or it will have to be replaced by another cathedral,” he says.

“While there must be a cathedral on the site, it does not necessarily have to replicate the cathedral as it stood before the earthquakes occurred.”

However, the judge also rules “the future of the cathedral is legitimately in the public arena and is plainly a matter of intense public interest”.

In a letter to her diocese this afternoon, Bishop Victoria Matthews said she was pleased that the church’s decision to deconstruct had been confirmed by the judge.

She acknowledged that the church had to assure the court of its commitment to build a new cathedral in the Square before proceeding further with the deconstruction.

“As we have said since March, the new design will be a mixture of old and new, and it will be beautiful,” she added.


The High Court decision acknowledges the complexities that CPT grappled with in reaching its decision.

“Everyone agrees that the decision facing the CPT was difficult,” the judgement says.

“The timeframe was tight (this is not a criticism of CERA); complex engineering and other issues needed to be assessed; there were many competing considerations; and whatever option was chosen, a large shortfall in the funds required to complete the project seemed to be inevitable.

“The trust remained a trust for the erection of ‘a Cathedral’.

“No term requiring a particular style, for example gothic, was imposed on the trustee.

“Any suggestion that the purpose of the trust is to preserve the Cathedral indefinitely is inaccurate and unrealistic.”

CPT and the diocesan standing committee will now consider all aspects of the 200-paragraph decision, pending a judicial review of the church’s plans.

Bishop Victoria said: “The architectural firm Warren and Mahoney have already been engaged to work on design, and we completed the study tour with the architects in the middle of year.”

• Download the full judgement: Great Christchurch Buildings Trust v Church Property Trustees .pdf