Councillors' feathers ruffled over chooks

TOO CLOSE: Cara Miller shows the distance between her bedroom and the fence, behind which the neighbours’ chickens live.
TOO CLOSE: Cara Miller shows the distance between her bedroom and the fence, behind which the neighbours’ chickens live.

There was cackling, scratching around and even a little hen-pecking when Nelson city councillors addressed the issue of backyard henhouses, but no answer to the question: how close to the neighbours is too close?

The planning and regulatory committee was discussing a report on its bylaw relating to the increasingly popular practice of keeping poultry.

It decided that a review was a good idea, and responded to a recommendation that "guidance is provided to officers on preferred options to deal with poultry provisions".


Nobody wanted to stop the citizenry from keeping chooks - home eggs being the flavour of the month. It was the distance that the henhouse should be from the neighbours that got them cracking.

This came up in March when Stoke resident Cara Miller, whose neighbours' henhouse is within 2 metres of her bedroom, asked the council to think about the impact on people's lives.

A report from acting group strategy manager Nicky McDonald informed councillors that the Tasman District Council requires a setback of at least two metres from boundaries and 10m from neighbouring houses.

Timaru, Auckland, Rodney District, North Shore, Napier, Gisborne, Hastings, Rotorua and Taupo have a similar restriction, and most also say the coop can't be within 2m of the boundary.

Queenstown and Wellington are the only two areas where the Nelson council was unable to find any "controls related to chickens", McDonald's report said.

"It's a matter of balancing controls to protect people from noise and smell and other disturbance, versus the desire for people to be able to keep chickens in their back yard, and self-sufficiency,"' McDonald said.

Councillor and chicken fancier Kate Fulton said putting a distance restriction on proximity to other houses could stop people from keeping chickens.

"I would be quite cautious on insisting that chickens be 2-5m away from the boundary, or a certain distance away from a property, as people quite often do tend to put their compost bin or their chicken coop in their corners."

Councillor Ruth Copeland didn't think there should be a restriction on distance from the boundary, but backed a minimum distance from neighbouring homes.

"I think we should bear in mind how much 10m is - it's a large size."

She gauged it was about 4m from her side of the council table to councillor Matt Lawrey, opposite. A comfortable distance - from chickens - would be "around 6m", she said.

Lawrey said an ideal world wouldn't need such regulations, "but that's not the world we live in".

"No-one wants a neighbour's chicken coop 2m from their bedroom window."

Stepping back in, Fulton was in the middle of an explanation when she rebuked councillor Ian Barker, sitting on her right: "Could you please not make noises when I'm talking? I try not to make noises when you're talking. You need to be patient, councillor Barker."

Taking that on board, Barker waited until after the vote and then pointed out that the report's section on keeping animals noted that the council requires any stock, poultry or pets to be kept in clean and sanitary areas in urban zones. This included horses, for which written permission was required.

Alluding to the city's-horse-and-cart vagabond Lewis Stanton (aka Hone Ma Heke), he asked, "Why have we not used this provision?"

Committee chair Brian McGurk said that was "a very interesting point".

"I think we kept that horse for 14 months."

The Nelson Mail