Backyard 'look' put ahead of safety

By Ellen Irvine

Modern backyard with pool
Modern backyard with pool

Swimming pool owners in the Western Bay are failing fencing compliance standards because the owners are more concerned with the look of their backyard.

The practice has disappointed Water Safety New Zealand, which says the fencing rules are in place to save young children from drowning - and they work.

Western Bay of Plenty District Council senior building control officer Bob Sherman said getting pool owners to comply with fencing regulations could be a struggle as they did not like the way the regulation fences looked in their landscaping.

There were "aesthetic issues" that the fences and gates required did not suit the open-plan style they wanted.

"That's often the reason put forward why they don't want to do what they are supposed to do," Mr Sherman told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

The Fencing of Swimming Pools Act is clear - all private outdoor pools must be fenced unless the walls of the pool are more than 1.2m above the ground, or the maximum depth is 400mm or less.

The fence must surround the area immediately around the pool only. Gates should close and latch automatically.

Older swimming pools are also required to adhere to the current standards, but Mr Sherman believed there would be pools in the Western Bay that were not fenced adequately.

He urged pool owners to contact council for an inspection to see if their fencing was adequate.

In other cases, fences that had been passed by council could have since been altered.

"From time to time, once people see how it looks, they can make changes which don't comply."

Mr Sherman said the purpose of the act was to protect young children from drowning - and it was crucial even if the home owner did not have children.

"There are ownership changes. You never know when children are going to turn up."

Tauranga City Council senior technical officer of building services Steve Ferguson said it was possible pool owners modified their pool fencing to get a certain "look" after the code of compliance or final inspection.

"People pay a lot of money for their swimming pool and gardens or whatever they have got, they want to treat it as a feature."

Mr Ferguson said the most common reasons pool fences failed compliance were because they were not high enough, had gaps or gates that were not self-latching.

"It's normally when there are additions or alterations to existing dwellings that have swimming pools that areas of non-compliance can come up."

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said the act was clear - aesthetic reasons could not override the need for fences to comply.

"It just seems really dumb. You don't hear people saying it looks silly wearing a seatbelt," he said.

"It's not worth the risk. Council knows that and home owners need to understand that too."

The act was there to save children's lives, Mr Claridge said. "As soon as standards drop, you have got higher risk of small children drowning.

"A lot of people say they don't have any kids, they don't need it.

"It doesn't matter, because when the property is sold, the pool and fence are in place, so the council needs to get it right."

Bartlett Swim School instructor Scott Bartlett said it was disappointing if people were deliberately breaching pool fence standards.

"The rules are there for a good reason and you have got to try and fit into those rules as best you can. They are to protect our children."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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