By Bernard Hickey
Epsom MP and ACT Party Leader David Seymour has suggested Auckland Grammar (AGS) and Epsom Girls Grammar (EGS) could avoid becoming overwhelmed by new entrants by either stopping the densification of the Grammar Zones or removing Grammar Zone entitlement from the occupants of the thousands of new apartments expected to be built in the zone in the coming decade.
Seymour told Interest.co.nz the schools were already close to bursting point and had little scope to build up or out, given the lack of available land and restrictions on building heights.
Apartment developers have been openly touting their properties as being in the Grammar Zone, which in some cases can add up to to NZ$0.5 million to the value of the property.
Seymour said the risk was that the Grammar Schools may eventually have to restrict admissions, which could affect the entitlements of those who had already bought into the Grammar Zone for their children.
"That's the sort of investment that a lot of people have put in and you have to have some empathy for that," he said.
Owners and tenants of new apartment and townhouse developers in the zones were effectively free-riding on the benefits of being in the zones, which could ultimately hurt the rights of those already in the zones.
"If you're going to continue this process then the schools eventually burst," he said.
Seymour said AGS' roll was already at 2,600 and was headed for 3,000, while EGS was coming up against its limits with a roll of 2,200.
"Even if they can afford the buildings -- Grammar has been able to fundraise a lot and EGS less so --you then come under enormous lack of space and just how many kids can you manage in one school?," he said.
"These are some of the challenges and when you come to the possible solutions then none of them are easy, but it's a conversation that needs to be had."
Another option would be to build a new school, possibly at the Auckland University's Epsom campus behind the Mt Eden shopping strip, but that also raised tricky questions about whether it would cause existing zones to change or what type of school it would be.
'Stop the intensification'
Seymour said the most obvious solution was to stop the densification of the Grammar Zones, either by allowing existing residents to block development, or by using the school's admission rules to block the residents of new buildings from being eligible for admission.
"I don't believe in 50 years time when we're a society with vastly more sophisticated transport that people will be as attracted to living so intensely," he said.
"As transport technology improves, as it has for the last 200 years, people will say that's great and travel farther and faster and we're going to consume more space," he said.
"Stopping the rate of intensification is one option, and I've suggested one way you might do that through education."
'Stop the free riding developers'
Later, in a phone interview, Seymour suggested changing the Education Act to give boards the power to exclude residents from new residences, potentially from a future date, but not retrospectively. Councils could also be forced to account for public goods such as education in their planning processes for new properties, he said.
"If they were also faced with an Education Act that required them to have a certain limit on the number of school places available for new dwellings, and that would be a time limit, that would be something they have to consider," he said.
"Sub-dividing and building up to benefit from a public good in a certain school zone -- and you see that in the advertisements -- that would not be allowed and probably make the council's job simpler because that incentive would be removed in the first place."
"The moratorium would be on new dwellings over and above the current number. What you're really rationing here is the bundled good, which is access to a certain school zone, and you see that in how they advertise their developments."
Seymour pointed to potential developments of 250 apartments at Alexandra Park and up to 500 on Gilies Ave. Others have pointed to as many as 1,800 extra apartments being planned across the Grammar Zone over the next three years.
"You have to wonder how many of those projects would pass the stop-go point were it not for the value and the premium people are prepared to pay for access to school zones," he said.
"This would prevent the cycle we currently have where people are incentivised to build as intensely as possible in the zone, but as they do that they're inevitably going to destroy that very (public) good that they're building to partake of."
Seymour agreed that such a rule could create perverse outcomes where developers rebuild existing residences with Grammar Zone rights with dozens of bedrooms for students, but he said such avoidance activity was inevitable with any law.
'Protect the interests of existing residents'
Seymour said he favoured allowing residents in the zones exercising their property rights to block adjacent development.
"I'm in favour of people being able to protect the level of noise, traffic, shading and basic things that directly affect their property," he said.
He preferred development happen on the fringes around Auckland and he opposed Auckland Council moves to impose metropolitan limits.
"What I'm opposed to and why I believe the RMA requires reform is the kind of macro level planning where a group of urban planners at Auckland Council say 'we know what the correct amount of density is and we're going to draw a line around the city and we're going to tell you how you're going to live and get around 30 years into the future," he said.
"They simply don't have the information about how technology will change the way people work and get around."
Seymour preferred Auckland built out rather than up.
"I'm saying upwards to an extent, but you have to protect the expectations of people that bought into a neighbourhood with a certain community character, and on the other hand you've got a country that's 0.7% built out," he said.
"If we got rid of this fetish for intensifying the city, you'd see a relaxation of the supply of housing."
(Updated with more comments from Seymour )