Overseas land buyers funding schools

Chris Hipkins
Chris Hipkins

Overseas buyers of sensitive land have helped schools to  fund tablets, laptops - and even special needs education.

Since 2009, a total of 16 schools, universities and other educational institutions have received donations, grants or scholarships from applicants to the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).

Wakatipu High School received $100,000 from Glenorchy Homestead Limited, which offered the money as part of its application to purchase 19ha of property at 761 Malaghans Rd in Arrowtown.

The property was valued at $2.7 million and was to be used as a home when the applicants - Singapore residents David Chuang and Lim Mee Len - visit New Zealand.

A letter from Wakatipu High School principal Steve Hall to the OIO, released by the Labour Party, outlined how the school had recently implemented a "bring your own device" or BYOD policy, meaning all its students are required to bring an appropriate electronic device each day for use in lessons.

Mr Hall's letter states that about $72,000 was needed to help some students afford a device, and a further $30,000 would be used to train staff.

Prime Minister John Key said today he was comfortable with the donation.

"If you look at how someone can get support for their OIO application, one of the things they can do is undertake community projects ... it's no bad thing they can do that, it is a contribution to the community they are effectively investing in."

Swiss national Bernard Jean Sabrier was given consent in January to buy 47ha of land in the Bay of Islands, having said he would donate to the Bay of Islands International Academy to help "address the school's critical needs", namely the support of priority learners and special needs students, and languages programmes.

Mr Sabrier, who has acted as director on the boards of several large European companies, already owns property at nearby Mataka Station.

In March, the OIO gave consent to Hong Kong-based Blue Lake Investment to buy 3551ha of land at Braemar Rd in Lake Tekapo for $16.5 million.

That was granted after a pledge of $410,000 to be split between Lincoln University, the A20 cycleway and the Mackenzie Trust.

A purchase of land in Auckland by a Chinese buyer was green-lighted in October last year after the buyer promised to establish a scholarship fund for students at Otahuhu College.

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the donation aspect of the Arrowtown land approval was "very worrying".

"That the OIO should be using the sale of sensitive land as a lure to attract money that makes up for Government under-investment in public services."

The fact a decile 10 school like Wakatipu had a large number of students that couldn't afford electronic devices demonstrated the pressure many families would be under, Mr Hipkins said.

OIO group manager Annelies McClure said investments in community projects were offered voluntarily, and specifically allowed for in the law.

- By Nicholas Jones of the New Zealand Herald

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