This page has information on the purpose of the Environmental Legal Assistance Fund, what it covers, who is eligible to apply and how applications are assessed.
Purpose of the Environmental Legal Assistance Fund
The Environmental Legal Assistance Fund (the fund) is for not-for-profit groups advocating for matters of environmental public interest. Funding enables applicants to participate more effectively and efficiently in resource management processes at the Environment Court or board of inquiry.
How much funding is available?
There is no minimum grant and the maximum grant is $50,000 (excluding GST) per group per application for any one case. The fund has a total annual budget of $600,000 (excluding GST).
The Ministry enters into a deed of funding with the group to pay the costs (up to specified amounts) for the specified legal counsel and expert witnesses. Money is not provided directly to the applicant group.
What the fund covers
Funding is available to cover the time and expenses of legal representatives and/or expert witnesses used in preparing for, resolving and/or presenting cases before the Environment Court
As part of your application you must include a short resume about your legal representatives and expert witnesses which outlines their relevant qualifications and experience, including the resource management experience of your legal counsel.
There is no guarantee that any or all requested funding will be awarded. The applicant must be eligible for funding and only reasonable costs will be considered for funding.
If insufficient information is provided, a request will be made for additional information. Your application will not be assessed until all the required information has been provided.
What the fund does not cover
Funding is not available for:
- assistance at council hearings
- assistance in higher court appeals
- costs incurred before the application being lodged
- costs of members of applicant groups in any event
- sundry costs of non‐incorporated groups
- costs of establishing the group as a legal entity
- ongoing costs of the group, such as capital costs and rent
- costs awarded by the court against a group or individuals of the group
- costs of preparing submissions to the Minister for the Environment for board of inquiry hearings under the call‐in process. This is a prior stage to the board of inquiry hearing.
Who is eligible for funding?
Not-for-profit groups are eligible to apply for funding.
Eligible groups include:
- iwi and hapū groups, incorporated societies, and community groups. It is generally expected that groups are incorporated or a trust. The fund is not available to individuals.
Before applying for funding the group must either:
- already be engaged in the proceedings by being a party to the case – when the case is before the Environment Court
- have lodged a submission with the Environmental Protection Authority – when the Minister for the Environment has directed the matter to a board of inquiry or if it is a proposal of national significance to the Environment Court
- be a section 274 party or a party to the court proceedings – when the local authority has directly referred the application to the Environment Court.
Applications are assessed every 6 - 8 weeks by an independent advisory panel against set criteria. The panel makes recommendations to the Minister for the Environment who makes the final decision on whether to fund an application.
The independent advisory panel comprises seven members appointed for their knowledge of environmental law, resource management issues and of community groups and iwi. The members are appointed by the Minister for the Environment.
Independent advisory panel members
Phil Page (Chair)
The fund’s criteria have been updated following the enactment of the Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017. The changes more effectively and clearly communicate the fund priorities for funding while ensuring the fund continues to appropriately reflect New Zealand’s resource management framework. The changes provide greater clarity and transparency about what the fund seeks to achieve, but do not materially change its purpose or assessment considerations.
When deciding whether to recommend funding, the panel will:
- consider whether a group’s case is in the environmental public interest, namely whether it:
- relates to a nationally or regionally important issue
- raises Resource Management Act Part 2 matters
- has the potential to create useful case law
- has the potential to improve the administration and efficiency of the Resource Management Act
- involves issues of national importance which will not be addressed in full before the Environment Court or a board of inquiry without the expert evidence provided by the group
- specifically consider:
- the degree of collaboration undertaken or proposed to be undertaken by the applicant with other parties in the case
- whether funding the applicant’s involvement in the legal proceedings will contribute to impeding or delaying the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being in relation to important needs such as employment, housing and infrastructure.
When deciding the level of funding to recommend, the panel will consider:
- the commitment of the group - demonstrated by its ability to manage the case (including any previous experience in legal cases), its history with the issue, the time it has invested, its financial contribution (having regard to the position of the group and the resources it can offer), its efforts to raise funds and the pro bono contribution from lawyers and/or experts
- whether the group is open to mediation, and whether mediation is appropriate in the proceedings
- whether there is likely to be an imbalance between the quality of evidence and case management between the parties due to a lack of financial resources
- whether the case is vexatious or frivolous
- whether the case relates to a board of inquiry or a direct referral to the Environment Court
- whether the group and/or its members has a private interest in the outcome
- whether the case relates to policy and planning instruments
- any other matters arising out of the application.
After consideration of the secondary criteria, the panel may recommend that no funding is awarded.