3 September 2020
Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Barbadoes Street, Christchurch
It was always going to be an uphill battle to challenge the demolition of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament but the Restore our Catholic Cathedral (RoCC) group felt it essential that every possible attempt should be made to try to save this Category 1 Heritage New Zealand listed building from demolition.
The most asked question today is why has there not been outrage before now regarding the demolition? The answer is simple. Up until August 2019 the Catholic Diocese and the general public had been lulled into a false sense of security because Bishop Barry Jones had declared the Cathedral would be saved. The nave would be restored using the $45m insurance money available, and the remainder would be made safe and mothballed until further funds became available for restoration. This procedure is in line with international best practice and was heralded as so.
Unfortunately Bishop Jones died and a new Bishop ordained. Bishop Paul Martin had other ideas most of which he did not share in great detail. The first hint of the Bishop’s plan was included in the publication ‘Our Faith Our Future’ dated 9 June 2019 where he set out his proposals for new parishes. In Christchurch Central it states ‘Cathedral – at either Barbadoes Street or on a new site’. The Bishop had already made his decision as six weeks later, for according to the Charities Register, on 26 July 2019, The Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Christchurch acquired 100% of a company that owns land in the central city. On 29 October 2019, the Diocese paid a deposit towards another central city land purchase with settlement expected on 19 December 2019. The total value of these acquisitions was $29,000,000. However, as these transactions were subsequent to the June 2019 financials the details will not be in the public domain until nearer to the end of 2020, given that tax charities have six months past balance date to file with Charities Services.
The alarm bells started to ring. Thus RoCC was formed in August 2019. Our concerns around the proposed demolition related mainly to the status of the land, the Bishop’s empowering legislation, canon law, the lack of consultation and the s38 process.
The current demolition is concerning, at least on a human level, that the Bishop has –
- Not engaged in any public/Catholic community consultation about the matter. This is notwithstanding that the future of the Cathedral is something which is of concern/interest to the wider Canterbury community and more importantly, to the Catholic community in the whole of New Zealand;
- Not really provided any of the information which would have been required under the s38 Notice to show exactly why he has reached such a significant decision. We cannot see any reason why the Bishop is not willing to provide us with the documentation we requested. It is not commercially sensitive. His fear seems to be that it would open up debate about his decision. This does not appear to be something that the Bishop is willing to countenance.
RoCC is mystified why in 2015 the independent hearings panel dealing with the District Plan would not have retained the safeguards for the Cathedral that were built into the s38 Notice. Whether this was a result of representations made to that panel by the Diocese is not known to us. Certainly, our understanding was that the demolition of the Cathedral was to be a step of last resort, once it was clear that there was no other viable option. We do not understand why Heritage NZ has taken so little interest in the matter of preserving the Cathedral, given the aims of the organisation as New Zealand’s leading advocate for heritage. An investigation into the legality of Bishop Paul Martin’s intention to demolish by misusing the intention of his predecessor’s request for a s38 was essential. The group immediately investigated the legal means to prevent the demolition and to learn of the terms around the s38.
An expert in Resource Management Law was consulted who advised that as a result of the 2015 Independent Hearing Panel (IHP) process, chaired by Sir John Hansen, the district plan introduced controlled activity status for demolition and/or deconstruction of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament that is not in accordance with the s38 Notice issued by CERA which required a 12 step process to be instituted prior to any deconstruction. Under the RMA, a controlledactivityisnotabletobedeclinedbytheCouncil. Conditionsareabletobeimposed in respect of the demolition process, provided they are consistent with matters over which a control has been reserved in the district plan, although conditions are unable to prevent or frustratedemolition. ArgumentshadbeenpresentedtotheIHPthatconditionsoughttorequire the Roman Catholic Bishop to demonstrate that it was no longer possible to adhere fully to conditions of the s38 Notice, although these were not accepted by the IHP.
Accordingly, as matters stand, it is open to the Roman Catholic Bishop, Paul Martin, to obtain controlled activity consent for full demolition of the Cathedral only if the stepped process proves that restoration is not possible. RoCC’s view is that this is questionable.
This was devasting news for the group. However, undeterred we raised funds to engage a Barrister and Instructing Solicitor for an opinion for a judicial review as to the lawfulness of the decision to demolish the Cathedral.
RoCCV was informed there is no legal basis on which we could seriously contend to the High Court (in its supervisory jurisdiction) that the Bishop was acting illegally in terms of the decision to demolish vis a vis the Trust Deed. The morality of the Bishop Paul Martin’s decision is quite another matter in light of the clearly stated intention by his predecessor to retain the cathedral.
Dame Anna Crighton Convenor and Spokesperson, 021 1844 689