Historic Flagstaff Hill now in public ownership

1 October 2015

Wellington City Council has, after more than 40 years, finally secured ownership of the historic Flagstaff Hill reserve above Willis Street.

Yesterday’s (Wednesday) Council meeting voted unanimously to approve the purchase of the 1630m² site from its owners, Mike and Gay O’Sullivan, for what Wellington’s Acting Mayor, Justin Lester, says is a very reasonable price - lower than the agreed valuation. The couple originally had consent to build 12 apartments on the site.

Councillor Lester says the City Council has been looking after Flagstaff Hill as a public space since at least 1972 though it has always been in private hands. “We’ve been trying to secure this important – but admittedly well-hidden – park for the public for many years. Finally, thanks to the willingness of the latest owners, Mike and Gay, to negotiate a fair price, we’ve secured it.”

Flagstaff Hill is on the slope south of the St George Hotel, between Willis Street and The Terrace. It can only be reached on foot – from Percival Street and Allenby Terrace. It has historical significance as the site of a cannon installed after the 1843 Wairau incident in which Colonel Arthur Gibbon-Wakefield, the brother of Edward Gibbon-Wakefield, met his death.
 
The first recorded flag was raised on the site in 1857 - it is not known who raised it. The land was first referred to as Flagstaff Hill in 1891 and the name has remained in use since.

A group of cottages surrounding the site are some of the oldest original cottages in the central city. To complement these, Gay and Mike had consented approval to build 12 townhouses on this site.

The Council’s Natural Environment Portfolio Leader, Councillor Helene Ritchie, says Flagstaff Hill is a green oasis in one of the most densely-populated parts of the city. “It’s a great quiet spot for lunch on a fine day. It could also be a performance or outdoor theatre space. Parts of it could be turned into a community garden.”

Over the years the site has been owned by a number of organisations including New Zealand Breweries and Massey University - as part of their ownership of the St George Hotel.

Mr O’Sullivan says he and Gay have been keen to give something back to the city. “We negotiated a very reasonable price provided the Council agreed the land become reserve.”