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Pool fencing issue to go to Government

Pool fencing issue to go to Government

The voice of local government is asking the country's law-makers to rewrite a confusing 17-year-old act and set clearer rules for pool fencing.

At this week's Local Government New Zealand* Conference, representatives of the country's 86 councils supported a remit proposed by North Shore City Council calling for a review of the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act (FSPA) 1987.

North Shore City Mayor George Wood welcomes the backing of his fellow councils and is confident that Local Government New Zealand's proposed law change will bring much-needed clarity and flexibility to the pool fencing issue.

His council's initiative stems from what he describes as the murky interpretations and lack of clarity the legislation presents to pool owners, designers, builders, industry groups and local authorities.

"The legislation has proved controversial and difficult to enforce since its inception. Parts of it are unclear and its current association with the Building Act is confusing," says the former policeman.

Clarification will be sought on issues such as the legitimacy of lockable spa pool covers, a clear definition of the immediate pool area, the situation where doors from the house directly enter the pool area and the interaction between FSPA, the building code and the Building Act.

The FSPA was introduced in 1987 as an attempt to eliminate the tragedy of pre-schoolers drowning in home swimming pools.

"When the Act was introduced, most councils believed its primary aim was preventing young children gaining access to the pool from outside the property," George Wood says.

Two recent determinations from the Building Industry Authority (BIA) have had a significant impact on pool fencing approvals and their interpretation. The BIA determinations are binding decisions on technical matters of doubt or dispute about compliance with the Building Code.

The new interpretations mean that lockable spa covers are no longer acceptable as an alternative to compliant pool fencing, and that it is no longer acceptable to have doors from the house entering the pool area unless it is a confined area and access is restricted.

"Due to the new BIA interpretations, local authorities are now left to decipher the existing legislation - and they are doing so in different ways. The intent of the changes is to keep young children safe, but creates confusion for people who previously complied and now find they don't," he says.

North Shore City has an estimated 5200 homes with pools; a large proportion of these would no longer meet the new requirement as their situations may no longer meet the interpretation of the immediate pool area as outlined in the BIA determination.

"There are two Acts of Parliament that deal with pools: the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act and the Building Act. This has caused confusion and frustration for the local authorities who are required to enforce the rules and pool owners who need to follow them," George Wood says.

A regional group of council officers have been working to seek clarity on pool fencing rules and regulations from the Government to eliminate ambiguity in the future and ensure that everyone shares a clear, common understanding of what is required.

"The legislation needs a good towelling down or pool owners, builders, designers and inspectors will continue to be left unsure of its changing currents. A review will end the confusion for everyone, and put a stop to some unclear interpretations.

"In the meantime, we are working with pool owners to provide them with practical solutions to achieve compliance with the new rules in a reasonable amount of time," Mayor Wood says.

North Shore City environmental protection team leader, Warwick Robertson, says his council wrote to all pool owners late last year advising them of the requirements.

"We're encouraging people who are considering installing a pool to do as much homework as possible to ensure safety standards and pool fencing requirements are met. We are also advising our residents to make sure they are dealing with reputable fencing contractors who know the rules.

"People are welcome to contact our Environmental Services pool fencing officers by calling North Shore City Actionline on 486 8600."

North Shore City Council is keen to see the responsibility for the FSPA move from the Department of Internal Affairs to the proposed new Department of Building and Housing.

Like all other councils, North Shore City is keenly awaiting the High Court's ruling on what is meant by the "immediate pool area". The Court will next week consider a controversial Waitakere pool fencing case and will make declaratory judgement, the announcement of which cannot come soon enough for many.

* Sector lobby group, Local Government New Zealand represents the national interests of NZ's 86 councils.

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