Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Christchurch faces mothballed Cathedral

The project to reinstate Christchurch's Cathedral in the Square is facing an indefinite break in works, which would leave the Diocese and the city of Christchurch with a broken Cathedral at heart.
• 'Gothic pile' or 'heart of the city'?

Taonga News  |  08 Apr 2024  |

Bishop of Christchurch Peter Carrell says that Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Limited (CCRL) is facing a worse case scenario of having to stop work on its already "first-third finished reinstatement" of the Cathedral in the Square. 

“Mothballing the Cathedral is something we hoped we would never have to contemplate – and we are optimistic of finding a solution to avoid this situation.” said Bishop Peter on 6 April.

Bishop Peter has many times expressed his desire for the Diocese of Christchurch to have its Cathedral in the Square once more – as a place for God's people in Canterbury to "meet together, share faith, and break bread together in its exciting purpose-built spaces for mission and ministry."

And Bishop Peter wants the Cathedral open again to serve the people of Christchurch and the many visitors to the region.

"I am heartened by recent research that shows that the local passion for the building is strong, with 74 per cent of residents surveyed considering the Cathedral essential to the city’s future and 62 per cent wanting it rebuilt.

Bishop Peter said the Cathedral would not have been built in 1881 without the full weight of the community behind it. 

"It is now critical we demonstrate the same leadership in returning the Cathedral to life.”

CCRL Chair Mark Stewart agrees that facing the prospect of mothballing the building is an incredibly challenging position to be in.

He explained how last year CCRL instigated a comprehensive review of the costs and timeline of the reinstatement programme when in March 2023 they gained full access to the inside of the Cathedral – for the first time since the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.

"With safe, unconstrained access to the Cathedral we undertook further extensive investigation to validate assumptions and consideration of the work required to strengthen and reinstate the Cathedral. While we did this, we deliberately slowed work on the site."

“With the knowledge gained from the project review it became apparent that continuing the original project workplan would be too expensive and represent too much risk."

As a result the CCRL Board decided to reduce the scope, cost and risk of the project by removing the deep foundation for the Cathedral tower and removing the planned lower courtyard.

“By doing this the overall cost of the project is now $248 million. We are confident we can raise a further $26 million of fundraising, on top of the $24 million raised so far."

Bishop Peter Carrell has committed to securing additional contributions from the Anglican Church of $16 million, which leaves a funding gap of $114 million.

“Our urgent need is a funding stream of $30 million that we can access by September 2024 so we can continue the strengthening."  said Bishop Peter. 

"We then need further funding to allow us to complete the reinstatement by October 2031."

For now the reinstatement project team are carefully managing the remaining funds to maintain operations.

Mayor of Christchurch Phil Mauger says the Cathedral Reinstatement company team has updated the city on the situation they are in.

He acknowledged that bridging the millions-wide funding gap will take the combined efforts of the charitable company, the church, the city and central government.

“Many of our residents, businesses and visitors will see the Cathedral as the final piece of the rebuild. But we must acknowledge that the financial pressure all of these groups are under at the moment will make this challenging,” said Phil Mauger.

Mark Stewart reported that Minister of Finance, Hon Nicola Willis has been briefed about the longer-term funding issues and understands the situation.

CCRL are committed to reinstating Christ Church Cathedral as a centre of ministry and mission, but also as an important civic and heritage building and wider community space.

Mark Stewart explained how a recently-commissioned New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) report estimated the total economic value to Christchurch City of reinstating the Cathedral could reach up to $20.8 million per year taking into account additional tourism spending.

“The NZIER report stated that there has been around $1 billion of private and public sector investment in the streets around Cathedral Square since the earthquake, and a further $1 billion is planned for the next 10 years. The report showed that the Cathedral reinstatement would unlock the full value of these investments and support the wider regeneration of Christchurch."

Mark Stewart reports that at every step the reinstatement project is proving to be very complex.

“Essentially our assumptions at the start of the project were based on what advice we knew from experts and initial investigations. Getting inside the Cathedral in March last year was the last piece of the puzzle informing our design and construction methodology."

“Unfortunately, some of our early assumptions were proven wrong. For example, once inside the Cathedral we realised that the foundations were not as deep as perimeter foundations, or as indicated in the 1881 drawing, and the ground investigations raised more issues."

Major impediments to the deeper tower foundations and lower courtyard design arose when the groundwater levels were reassessed and the below ground areas were unable to be 'dewatered'. Projected costs on stone masonry also rose significantly on closer inspection of the work required.

Graeme Earl from Naylor Love Canterbury who are overseeing construction says the stabilisation works were challenging, and unfortunately took longer than first envisaged, mainly due to the many access and sequencing constraints along with managing stability concerns.

“The revised budget and timetable as part of the project review is now reflective of what the collaborative team of designers and constructors now know, and inclusive of revised design/sequencing solutions to recognise and minimise the impacts of risk.” said Graeme.

Bishop Peter Carrell has asked for the Church's prayers as CCRL investigates funding pathways for the reinstatement project going forward.