Blenheim has been criticised on various occasions for its lack of distinguishing features and charm. As a local it's often easy to respond with a knee jerk reaction and claim that outsiders don't know what they're talking about, and don't really know the place, but with an open mind, taking the opportunity to travel and see what other towns and cities around NZ have to offer can provide a great opportunity to see where Blenheim could improve. One of those areas that is crying out for improvement is the lack of trees.
Between Labour Weekend and Marlborough Anniversary Weekend I took time out to travel for both personal and work reasons, and spent Labour Weekend in and around Twizel in the MacKenzie Basin, and most of the following week in Timaru. Over the course of my travels, I passed through a number of towns including Geraldine, Fairlie, and Ashburton, and one of the things that struck me about all of these places was the luxuriant green of spring foliage, often on approach to the towns, and always in some large area close to a main route through town. In stark contrast, one of the distinguishing features of Blenheim is the distinct lack of greenery on approach or anywhere on the main route through town.
To be fair on Blenheim, Pollard Park is a very attractive spot, and we have our wonderful Wither Hills Farm Park, but Pollard Park is a bit out of the way, and the Wither Hills are rather barren. Could Blenheim change it's image to present visitors with more of a green leafy image, rather than the dry sun baked image the town currently has? If Twizel is anything to go by, definitely. Twizel is a young town, only created in the 1950s and with a permanent population of only around 1,500 in the middle of the inhospitable and generally treeless MacKenzie Basin, and yet in spite of this it has become an oasis of trees in an otherwise stark landscape. Trees in isolated stands on the Wither Hills show that the area could become forested with a strong volunteer planting effort and Council leadership.
Thee DHB land around the hospital is forested and could be converted into permanent parkland. Although the DHB no longer has interest in the land, community wellbeing in the form of an enhanced and developed green space would be an appropriate use of the area. Interestingly Timaru Hospital is located right next to the Timaru Botanic Gardens, and the grounds of the former Queen Mary Hospital in Hanmer are also quite park-like, so hospitals and parks are not without precedent. Having a tranquil and attractive setting might actually provide public health benefits in terms of a pleasant place to exercise and for mental wellbeing of convalescing patients who are well enough to be outdoors.
Improving the main route through Blenheim is also possible. The current car graveyard or saleyard depending on how you look at it should be landscaped and planted in trees. It would provide some contrast to the starkness of asphalt around the railway station and provide some welcome summer shade. It would be a fitting repurposing of the land especially for those concerned about the environmental impact of motor vehicles.
There are a couple of areas of the Wither Hills Farm, that are rather ominously not outlined on the map of the Farm Park, which presumably means they are earmarked for development. Given that continued sale of council owned land does not seem to have been able to have much effect on restraining rates, however a diminishing asset base means less to sell in future, it would make sense to plant these areas in trees that could gain the council ongoing carbon credits while providing additional recreational areas for residents.
Blenheim could transform itself into a green, forested oasis on the Wairau Plain if there is the will. Living with the Wither Hills only a few minutes walk from my door, I'd be a willing volunteer to start a green revolution, helping out with planting trees, and I'm sure there'd be plenty of other people who would be keen to do something in their own neighbourhoods. Of course this needs leadership from the council, but this is one of those nice things where expenditure of large quantities of ratepayers' money shouldn't be necessary, just some leadership and direction for how people can get involved.