Call to make pools free for un­der-5s


En­try to Lower Hutt’s six swim­ming pools could soon be free for chil­dren un­der 5 as one coun­cil­lor pushes to get the word out about wa­ter safety.

Af­ter wit­ness­ing the near drown­ing of a teen who was un­able to swim at Pe­tone Beach last sum­mer, Hutt City coun­cil­lor Camp­bell Barry wants chil­dren to be con­fi­dent around wa­ter.

‘‘It was a very scary thing to wit­ness, he was just lucky that peo­ple were around to save him.’’

Barry said many fam­i­lies were un­able to af­ford swim­ming pro­grammes for their kids and mak­ing pool vis­its free for un­der5s would en­cour­age con­fi­dence around wa­ter at an early age.

‘‘I truly be­lieve that mak­ing our pools more ac­ces­si­ble for kids in their early years will be a life saver for some.’’

He will present his pol­icy to the coun­cil in No­vem­ber, with the aim of hav­ing it in­cluded in next year’s long-term plan con­sul­ta­tion.

En­try into coun­cil pools is $3.50 for peo­ple un­der 15, while par­ents su­per­vis­ing chil­dren un­der 8 can en­ter pools for free.

It was es­ti­mated that in­tro­duc­ing free pool en­try for un­der-5s would cost the coun­cil $130,000 a year but Barry said the pol­icy could be made cost-neu­tral by re-pri­ori­tis­ing a small amount of coun­cil spend­ing in the CBD or by mak­ing mi­nor changes to the fee struc­ture at pools.

Wa­ter Safety New Zealand chief ex­ec­u­tive Jonty Mills said he sup­ported Barry’s pro­posed ini­tia­tive, adding that teach­ing wa­ter safety skills early and build­ing con­fi­dence around wa­ter was ex­tremely im­por­tant.

‘‘One of the big­gest is­sues in par­tic­u­lar is the de­cline in wa­ter safety lessons at schools. [School] pools are in rapid de­cline.

‘‘We all play in the wa­ter in some way, shape or form, but kids are com­ing out of [the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem] with­out wa­ter safety skills.’’

He said New Zealand had one of the high­est drown­ing tolls in the de­vel­oped world and drown­ing statis­tics were not helped by dan­ger­ous con­di­tions found here, with fast flow­ing cur­rents, rips and cool wa­ter tem­per­a­tures.

The Wa­ter Safety New Zealand Drown­ing Pre­ven­tion Re­port 2016 showed an av­er­age of 81 down­ings each year from 2011 till 2015.

The num­ber of un­der-5s who drowned in 2016 stood at three.

Welling­ton City Coun­cil scrapped pool fees for un­der-5s in 2016.

Camp­bell Barry with his niece, Karly McCabe, 1, at Huia Pool.

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