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The Press – News column May 28

A Fishy PR Sham

Lyttelton has been uplifted by the awesome generosity of the Auckland-based Landmark organisation. Their $1 million donation will kick-start the replica rebuild of the Timeball Station, which Mayor Bob Parker has rightly lauded as the resurrection of Lyttelton’s most important landmark. What a pity the Christchurch Mayor hasn’t exhibited the same consistency and stay-the-course leadership,  over the Garden City’s most emblematic of landmarks, Christ Church Cathedral. I’m just back home from a working holiday in Europe, which included a stop in the historic stone city of Assisi. Brutally smashed up by a sequence of earthquakes in 1997, lives were lost in the battered Basilica of St. Francis and 200,000 residents were left with uninhabitable homes.  It took more than a decade of pain-staking toil, resolve and cool-headed vision, but the entire city of Assisi has emerged, re-strengthened and restored, stone by stone. Ego, expedience and contemporary design capers didn’t prevail and contaminate Assisi’s core-soul. In fact, the Italian mantra for the Assisi’s masterpiece revival was, “Ricostruire dove era e come era” ( Restore where it was and how it was.)  In conversation with a group of Australia’s leading travel writers, they lavished praise on the Christchurch Arts Centre for their guts and glory restoration project. But they were unanimously scornful of the Anglican Church’s “hell-bent” desire for demolition. Perhaps that explains why the Anglican Church has received such a pitiful response to its “ Cathedral Conversations” consultation campaign. It is risible that only 3700 people  cast their votes on the Anglican website, compared to the 19,000 votes cast on The Press website.  Like The Press on-line poll, other media outlets who canvassed the public pulse , have seen the restoration option, triumph as the leading preference. But the Anglican Church have only themselves to blame for the dismal response to their in-house consultation . Many people clearly didn’t see the point in dignifying a consultation campaign, which they perceived as being loaded and disingenuous. Fashioned to placate the High Court, it smelt like a fishy PR sham, from the outset. Mischievously doubling the restoration price-tag to over $200 million was strategically geared to trash the retention option. Similarly, within days of launching their consultation campaign, the Anglican Synod rode roughshod over public opinion, hastily rubber-stamping the contemporary option. The Great Christchurch Buildings Trust deserves huge respect for the extraordinary overtures of expertise and financial support they have repeatedly offered the church. They’re even prepared to pay the full cost of stabilising the cathedral, starting immediately. But the Anglican inner-circle is not for the turning, unless the High Court intervenes further. The power of nature severely damaged our city’s enduring symbol. But it will be people in powerful places who will be remembered for destroying it.

( Mike’s weekly current affairs column, first published in The Press newspaper, May 28.)

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