New Zealand church says landmark cathedral to be demolished

WELLINGTON Fri Mar 2, 2012 6:06am EST

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's Anglican church is to demolish a 131-year-old cathedral in earthquake-devastated Christchurch because it is too dangerous and expensive to rebuild, the stricken city's bishop said on Friday.

The Victorian-era, Gothic-style cathedral, which dominated the city's central square, was badly damaged in the February 2011 quake. The 6.3 magnitude quake killed 185 people and destroyed large areas of the business centre and more than 6,000 homes.

The landmark cathedral was a favourite meeting place and tourist attraction, but any chance of saving it was ended by several strong aftershocks that caused more damage.

"The decision we have made has been made with prayer, with great deliberation, and an utmost concern for safety," Bishop Victoria Matthews told reporters.

She said the cathedral would be demolished gradually and carefully to a height of two or three metres to salvage historic features.

"There will be no bulldozers, there will be no wrecking balls, this will be done with deep love and respect for a building that has served us so well," Matthews said.

New Zealand faces a NZ$20 billion bill to rebuild its second largest city, the centre of which remains off limits a year after the quake. Whole blocks have been reduced to bare land.

However, thousands of tremors, some with magnitudes of up to 6, have delayed any concerted rebuilding.

Large areas of some suburbs have been hit by liquefaction -- slushy silt forced up through streets -- and are still being assessed to determine whether they are habitable.

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said the decision to demolish the cathedral was "heartbreaking".

"It is not an easy decision for many of us to accept," he said.

Christchurch was known as the Garden City because of its colourful gardens and parks and English-style stone buildings. It was also popular with honeymooners and overseas tourists as a gateway to New Zealand's spectacularly beautiful South Island.

(Reporting by Gyles Beckford; Editing by Paul Tait)