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Throw the Shade

More shade trees needed in city parks to help prevent skin cancer

Janine Rankin14:42, May 02 2022

Palmerston North’s parks and playgrounds could be shaded by leafy trees up to four times more quickly than a $10,000 a year tree-planting programme currently allows.

The city council’s play, recreation and sport committee has recommended the budget be increased to $40,000 a year, subject to surviving the final debates on next year’s rates increases.

The move follows an audit that showed only 30 of 79 parks already had plenty of shade. Three had no shade, and no newly-planted trees at all.

Cancer Society community health advocate Kerry Hocquard urged the council to do better.

She said it was a concern that New Zealand had the highest death rate in the world for melanoma, and skin cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer.

Skin cancer was 90% preventable through sun-smart behaviour and environmental measures, such as providing shade.

She said with some 49 parks and 16 playgrounds needing an additional 430 trees to be planted and to grow, it would take 15 years at the current rate of progress before there was plenty of shade in all of them.

Hocquard said the council should also give high priority to playgrounds and parks in poorer parts of the city, where people on low incomes were less able to pay for their own skin protection when children went outdoors to play.

Council group manager for parks and logistics Kathy Dever-Tod said in some parks, the provision of artificial shade sails and other structures was an option.

But trees were preferred, as they played a part in improving the city’s carbon footprint.

At the moment it cost about $250 to plant a tree. With the current $10,000 a year budget, that was 40 trees a year.

As well, some newly-planted trees were lost to vandalism, theft, adverse weather and other damage and had to be replaced.

And once established, it took five years for them to grow to a size that would provide adequate shade.

Dever-Tod said the costs of planting would increase significantly if the council planted larger specimens, as equipment would be needed to lift them into position.

She said the city was “blessed” with a ready supply of trees from nurseries, and had the staff resources to do the planting and initial watering and maintenance.

There was capacity to increase the planting programme fourfold, she said.

Cr Lorna Johnson said the council could bring forward the money it had in its long-term budget to be spent four to 10 years ahead, and speed up the programme now.

She said if the council continued at the current pace, it would take 15 years, the length of time it took a child to grow into an adult, before there were enough safe places to play with shade from the sun.

Deputy mayor Aleisha Rutherford said although she would be happy to approve increasing the budget immediately, it was the right thing to weigh up the programme’s priority against other projects in the council’s proposed annual budget.

She said it was encouraging that it was one thing the council would be able to do without facing likely constraints around supplies and labour, which were thwarting many other projects.

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