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The Cook Islands’ unique building law

The law in Cook Islands does not allow buildings to be taller than a coconut tree. Unless the building controller gives consent to an exception prior to construction, the maximum building height is 12 metres from ground level, according to the Building Code of the Cook Islands.

Many Cook Islanders and foreigners residing in the island nation believe this is a wonderful law, with even hotels only three storeys high.

Nita Marona, a resident of Arorangi in the Cook Islands said she frequently travelled to New Zealand and Australia.

The law in Cook Islands does not allow buildings to be taller than a coconut tree. Unless the building controller gives consent to an exception prior to construction, the maximum building height is 12 metres from ground level. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism Authority

“It is an urban jungle out there. It is just buildings, you are not connected to nature or the land. That is why many Cook Islanders return home,” she said.

An Australian national living in the Cook Islands, Gregory Parker said the law kept the beauty of the islands intact.

“I would not change a thing about the law if I could. Why would you. It is so beautiful like this,” he said.

Buildings in Cook Islands are quite modern and made to architectural designs similar to Australia and New Zealand.

To start building a home or a property in the Cook Islands, a building consent or permit is required. The application for a building consent is to be made to the building controller at Infrastructure Cook Islands, who will co-ordinate the responses from related agencies.

The law in Cook Islands does not allow buildings to be taller than a coconut tree. Unless the building controller gives consent to an exception prior to construction, the maximum building height is 12 metres from ground level. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism Authority

The design wind speeds for buildings of normal importance are based on a category 3 cyclone. Temporary roof tie-down details for cyclones are those currently recommended by the Red Cross.

Where a higher category must be designed for, closer spacing will need to be calculated.

Attention is drawn to a number of land-use planning requirements and considerations – introduced in response to concerns raised in public-consultation sessions.

Homes in the Cook Islands are mostly by the beach. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism Authority

In order to construct any building structure in the Cook Islands, you must apply for a building permit. This ensures that any development complies with the relevant Cook Islands building codes and regulations to certify that the final building is safe and fit for purpose.

The National Environment Service ensures that there is no environmental impact of any new building or development.

The applicant must submit an Environmental Significance Declaration outlining the proposed development and detailing any potential environmental impacts.

Once the declaration has been reviewed, and if no environmental concerns have been identified, a permit will be issued.

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If there are some concerns about the development, some additional information may be required which may include an Environmental Impact Assessment or an engineering report.

Once approval of the building or development has been received from NES, the next stage is to submit an application to the Ministry of Health to review and approve the sanitation and sewage system design.

Just keep an eye on the nearby coconut trees and you’ll be OK!

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