Funding shortfall halts Taranaki Cathedral project

Skyrocketing costs have caused the Taranaki Cathedral earthquake strengthening project in New Plymouth to come to an immediate halt in the face of a $8.5 million funding shortfall.

Built in 1846, St Mary is New Zealand’s oldest stone church and was undergoing earthquake strengthening and upgrades.

The project has a budget of $28.8 million, which is up on early estimates of $20m. This includes a $5m government contribution towards building an educational space Te Whare Hononga - the house that binds - which was completed in 2021.

Lead contractor Clelands Construction recently completed testing on a portion of the southern wall using seismic strengthening techniques proposed for the entire building, but estimated costs for the work have increased dramatically.

In 2019, the estimated cost of seismic strengthening was $10m, by 2023 that had risen to $16m and now it has blown out to $21.4m for the final consented design.

On its website, the cathedral said there were three principal reasons for the latest increase:

  • Strength testing on the southern wall of the cathedral has indicated a longer timeframe would be needed and therefore would cost more;
  • Inflation had caused subcontractor pricing to increase; and
  • One critical contractor increased its price by $700,000.

Taranaki Cathedral Dean Jay Ruka said the project had been delayed by Covid-19 and hit with soaring inflation thereafter.

“Essentially it’s materials, inflation and it’s more time needed for the job.”

He said without funds available the project was unable to lock in 2024 prices with contractors and it was possible costs could continue to increase.

In addition to cost blowouts, two financial mechanisms the cathedral had in place in 2023 were now no longer available leaving it unable to borrow the $8.5m to bridge the funding shortfall.

“A church trust underwrite of $6 million is no longer available and the remaining cost is now too large for an immediate underwrite from another trust.”

To unlock the remaining $2.7m from Kānoa the cathedral must show evidence of funding to bridge the shortfall.

Ruka said efforts were underway to make up the funding short fall with the aim of restarting work in two years’ time.

The Church of St Mary, which is located on the ancient site of Pūkākā Pā, played a pivotal role in the Taranaki Wars of the 1860s. It became the centre of a fortified settlement and gave shelter to Pākehā civilians, while European forces camped on the property.

The grounds were also the final resting place of Ngāti Hauā chief Wetini Taiporutu, his son Hemi, Ngāti Apakura chief Whararangi, Ngāti Kōura chief Hakopa and two unnamed chiefs, who were killed at Māhoetahi on 6 November 1860.

In 2021, the Taranaki Anglican Trust Board was able to begin relocating and renovating St Mary’s vicarage and building Te Whare Hononga.

Te Whare Hononga at the Taranaki Cathedral. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Ruka said it was able to do this because those components of the project were fully funded, but at the time there was insufficient funds to undertake the remediation of the cathedral.

He had no regrets about getting those two elements completed first as they had helped the cathedral focus on future goals.

“St Mary’s Church and Te Whare Hononga together provide a unique educational opportunity for peace and reconciliation in our region. Working with Ngāti Te Whiti first has set the tone to rescope the future,” he said.

“Reconciliation is not a destination. It is a long journey of shared experiences. A remediated cathedral will be an overflow of a remediated relationship with iwi Māori. The entire Taranaki Cathedral site and community is forging into an educational centre of excellence focused on peace and reconciliation, conflict resolution, and restorative justice.”

Funding received:

  • MBIE Kānoa - $2,751,150
  • Toi Foundation - $1,500,000
  • Wider Anglican Church - $3,000,000
  • Heritage and Lotteries - $500,000
  • NPDC Heritage Fund - $75,000
  • St Mary’s Parish & NP Community - $1,758,600
  • St Mary’s Parochial Trust - $300,000
  • Organ fundraising - $59,400
  • Interest received - $148,300

Funds secured - not yet received

  • MBIE Kānoa - $2,998,850
  • NPDC Heritage Fund - $150,000
  • Organ Pledge George Mason Trust - $50,000
  • Individual donors and pledges - $125,000
  • Wider Anglican Church loan - $7,000,000
  • Total funds secured $20,416,300

Shortfall as at March 2024 ($8,383,720)

Source: Taranaki Cathedral website