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  • 02 Great North Road Grey Lynn Mural
  • 01 Our Hood

Our tree is dead – long live the tree!

Grey Lynn News - Army tree

The historic and iconic tree outside the Army building on Great North Road has overlooked the Grey Lynn ridge for 150 years. Not any more.

Last Wednesday morning I started constructing a Victorian-era park bench in the back yard. The Macrocarpa slats exuded a lovely woody aroma, not quite as pure or defined as say Cedar or even Frankincense, but still distinctive.

The phone rang and the caller asked if I knew that the 150-year-old tree outside the Defence Force building on Great North Road was being cut down?

That’s when I heard the urgent drone of chainsaws, revealing a more sinister reality. The source of that marvellous Macrocarpa smell was actually 50 metres away and nothing at all to do with the goings-on in my backyard.

The historic and iconic tree, sadly now departed, overlooked Great North Road at its highest point on the Grey Lynn ridge.

Anywhere the Grey Lynn ridge was visible; ‘our tree’ was an anchor-point to home. It had been part of my life for at least 18 years, but in reality oversaw more than 150 years of Arch Hill history.

NZ Defence Force / Army tree

Reimagining Great North Road

In 2015 the Grey Lynn Residents Association embarked on a now almost completed community-led initiative: Reimagining Great North Road. One of the more important outcomes recognising the dearth of public space along the ridge was a suggested pocket park on the Defence Force land occupied by ‘our tree’.

Unfortunately, we became aware quite early on that the poor condition of the tree, which was already held together by two industrial strength hawsers, precluded public access on safety grounds.

Despite some early informal discussion at the time, the Defence Force was unequivocal in its response as to our chances of commandeering the space – aided and abetted by the unsafe condition of the tree.

Tree no more

Fast forward to last Wednesday. When I arrived at the site I found Defence Force personnel, a security guard, the usual traffic management team and arborists in attendance.

The arborists confirmed the opinion of a long-term local and amateur historian that as a result of a storm some 20 years ago, the tree had developed a split down the middle, hence the two hawsers holding it together. It had since rotted out down the middle of the trunk.

I asked the arborists to analyse the base of the tree for an approximate ring count to at least confirm the age of the tree but they noted there was nothing left in the middle to measure.

Grey Lynn News - Army tree

Deaf and blind to local context

Chatting with those in attendance, it became apparent that the Defence Force personnel present had no idea as to the age, history or significance of ‘our tree’.

This is so often typical of people who ‘helicopter’ in to work somewhere but are deaf and blind to local context.

They seemed genuinely mystified as to why some sort of reaching out to the local board, community organisations or media might have been appropriate to mark the tree’s demise.

And they had not a clue that it might be prudent to pre-empt the outcry of the uninformed, who are guaranteed to overreact to the perceived desecration of a tree – any tree, that was going to eventuate.

In storm the Tree-Nazis

Right on cue, one of the self-appointed Tree-Nazis arrived, striding around the site, muttering to camera, videoing all and sundry, and with a “This is our site – we are now in charge here!” attitude.

There was no attempt to consider the local context or tree condition, despite the reality of the situation being pointed out to her.

No wonder reasonable and fair-minded people from our community scatter. No wonder affected businesses and elected representatives refuse to engage with such people. Even I was embarrassed to be there and identify as a local!

An opportunity

Looking past the unfortunate demise of ‘our tree’, there is now an opportunity to move things along now that the health and safety concerns have evaporated.

It is OUR chance to claim this spot as a pocket park on public land.

On Thursday the Grey Lynn Residents Association immediately requested the support of the Waitematā Local Board, and is in the process of writing to the Ministers of Defence, Internal Affairs and our local MP, despite the unfortunate timing of the upcoming general election.

Why now?

The ‘why-now’ question as to the motivation and timing and of the tree removal by Defence has to be asked.

In discussion one of the employees told me they would be replanting the site. I asked if public access to the space was going to be granted?

“No – it’s our land!” I was told in no uncertain terms. Really?

Rumour has it that Defence has already been talking to interested developers to repurpose the whole site to multi-storey residential blocks vs the current two storey building.

Another recommendation of our Reimagining Great North Road initiative is the introduction of granular building heights, recognising the effect that 6-storey developments on the southern side of Great North Road would have on the winter sun shading on the south facing slopes of residential Arch Hill.

Any future residential development on this site under current rules would most likely fall foul of our aspirations to protect Arch Hill residents from permanent winter shading.

A saga in the making

This is a sorry tale of the removal of a tree regardless of the rights and interests of the ultimate land-owners – we, the public.

It is a tale of the Defence Force’s ignorance, lack of recognition of local context and the place that ‘our tree’ has had in the ecosystem and our community for so many years.

Unfortunately it is also a tale of the ongoing bad behaviour of a few members of our community who arrogantly consider themselves self-appointed guardians and representatives, but without the mandate.

Next steps

What we need now is a positive response from our Local Board, Council, Defence Force and the Government of this country to make the development of a pocket park the easiest possible thing in the world.


  1. You’re not really very clear as to who is the enemy here. Calling unknown persons “tree Nazis” is a bit unhelpful without explaining who they were, what their viewpoint was or exactly why they required a mandate from anyone to express their view or concerns democratically.