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Private spa pools in New Zealand homes will no longer need to be fenced off after the Government passed controversial law changes.

Swimming pool owners will also be able to use alarmed gates or doors rather than automatically-locking gates under the changes - a rule change which prompted the Labour Party to drop its support for the legislation.

The Government says the rule changes will lower the cost of compliance while reducing the number of drownings by six every decade.

Opponents, including doctors and water safety groups, say the Government has relaxed hugely successful safety rules which have dramatically reduced fatality rates for 30 years.

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith said the biggest problem with the existing law was compliance. There is no requirement for regular pool inspections. Those councils which were able to carry out inspections found around half of pools failed safety standards.

Once the bill takes effect on January 1, all swimming pools will have to be inspected and certified by the council or a professional organisation every three years. Councils will be able to issue warning notices rather than prosecuting non-compliant owners, Smith said.

The bill also scrapped rules which Smith said were "unworkable", in particular the mandatory fencing of spa pools or hot tubs, of which there are around 100,000 in New Zealand.

Instead of fencing, those pools will now require a lockable cover.

"I know there are members who have opposed the practical changes in the bill around these spa pools," Smith said.

"I would simply point out that ... more children have been drowned in baths than in spa pools, and no one in this Parliament is seriously suggesting that we should have to put a fence around a bath."

The Changes:

Three-yearly pool inspections by councils

Spas and hot tubs need locked covers, rather than fences

Garden pools and drainage ponds don't need fences

Alarmed gates which do not automatically locked are allowed

Infinity pools and pools by a 20-metre cliff do not need four-sided fencing

Source: NZHerald