District council building inspectors will carry on business as usual regarding fenced and gated pools despite an imminent law change scorned by some child medical specialists and water safety advocates.

The Government says its proposed replacement of the 1987 Fencing of Swimming Pools Act with Building Act amendments, headed by Dr Nick Smith, will reduce compliance costs by $17 million a year and five-yearly inspections may prevent drownings.

The proposal would improve compliance for the 20 per cent of pools that are not currently inspected, and is estimated to avoid six drownings every 10 years, on average, while costing $7 million for councils that do not inspect pools periodically at present or inspect less frequently than five-yearly, Mr Smith said.

The bill would, from next January, scrap the need to fence new home pools and will instead require "physical barriers that restrict access to the pool by unsupervised children under 5".


The law change will also require pool suppliers to tell buyers of their obligations to restrict children's access and will exempt spa pools with child-resistant covers.

At present each council decides what steps must be taken to ensure pools are compliant, with some inspecting pools three-yearly while 30 of 67 authorities have no periodic inspections at all.

Starship children's hospital specialists, who were among about 200 organisations and individuals to make a submission on the bill to Parliament's local government and environment committee, told MPs yesterday the Building (Pools) Amendment Bill must be withdrawn or heavily revised.

Dr Mike Shepherd, a Starship emergency department specialist, said the 1987 act had been highly successful in preventing harm to children and its repeal was rash and unwise.

"I think it is reckless. They are proposing an unscientific experiment.

"We estimate that since its introduction, at least 200 New Zealand toddlers' lives have been saved and at least as many children have avoided permanent severe brain injury."

Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) presented select committee hearings submissions Monday and Water Safety New Zealand chairman Danny Tuato'o said his organisation, and the wider sector, is "hugely concerned about the negative impact the proposed bill would have on the preschool drowning toll".

"Since the introduction of the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act, the number of children drowning has reduced from an average of 10 deaths per year, to two. This shows the bill is working and if our young children are to be kept safe it must be retained and even strengthened."

WSNZ also wanted spas and hot tubs treated the same way as pools, Mr Tuato'o said, and to still require fencing.

Robin Bradshaw, building inspector for Carterton District Council, said the authority required pools to have a 1.2m-high fence and a self-latching gate and that the latest three yearly rounds of pool inspections in the district had been just completed.

He said the requirements were waived for spa pools in Carterton that were fitted with lockable lids.

He said there were "some breaches" during the latest round of inspections but these were all quickly remedied.

Any changes to the legislation would mean ratepayers and council officers "would have to wait and see what is decided regarding our town plan".

A Masterton District Council spokesman said similar pool requirements are demanded in the district and three-yearly checks were also completed in the town.

He said inspections were also conducted when building consents were initially sought and on request.

He said breaches were corrected rapidly.

Yvonne Way, communications manager for South Wairarapa District Council, said the authority required 1.2m-high fencing for pools and conducted inspections every five years.

All swimming pools need a building consent and the structures were checked for compliance as well, she said.

"We regularly find existing swimming pools that do not comply with various aspects of the law and we require owners to remedy that; our plan if the law does not change is to continue with our five-yearly inspection programme of existing pools and to ensure all new swimming pools meet Building Consent requirements."