Environmental Legal Assistance Fund

Open for applications

The Environmental Legal Assistance 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, higher courts or board of inquiry.

Amount funded

Up to $50,000 (excluding GST) per group per application for any one case.

Key dates

14 May 2021
Round 6: closing date for applications
18 June 2021
Round 6: panel meets (AGM)
16 July 2021
Round 1: closing date for applications
13 August 2021
Round 1: panel meets (AGM)
10 September 2021
Round 2: closing date for applications
8 October 2021
Round 2: panel meets (AGM)
5 November 2021
Round 3: closing date for applications
3 December 2021
Round 3: panel meets (AGM)
21 January 2022
Round 4: closing date for applications
18 February 2022
Round 4: panel meets (AGM)
18 March 2022
Round 5: closing date for applications
22 April 2022
Round 5: panel meets (AGM)
20 May 2022
Round 6: closing date for applications
17 June 2022
Round 6: panel meets (AGM)

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 and higher courts.

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

  • Assistance at council hearings
  • 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, e.g. capital costs and rent
  • Costs awarded by the court against a group or individuals of the group
  • Judicial review cases and higher court cases which have not gone through the Environment Court
  • Costs of preparing submissions to the Minister for the Environment for the board of inquiry hearings under the call-in process. This is a prior stage to the board of inquiry hearing.

Who can apply

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 or higher courts
  • 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.

Funding 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.

Assessment of applications

Applications are assessed every 6 - 8 weeks by an independent advisory panel against set criteria. The panel makes recommendations to the Ministry 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) - Legal

Sarah Dawson - Planning

Ani Pitman - Māori /Cultural

Frank Boffa - Landscape Architecture

Loretta Lovell - Legal/Māori

Rachel Devine - Legal

Gregory Carlyon - Planning

Funding criteria

Primary funding criteria

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, higher courts or a board of inquiry without the expert evidence provided by the group
  • the degree of collaboration undertaken or proposed to be undertaken by the applicant with other parties in the case.

Secondary funding criteria

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 or higher courts appeal
  • 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.

The fund’s criteria is regularly updated to effectively and clearly communicate the priorities for funding. This is 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.

The latest version was updated and approved by the Minister for the Environment on 3 August 2019. 


After applying

If your submission is successful

  • You will enter into a deed of funding with the Ministry to pay the costs for the specified legal counsel and expert witnesses. All invoices sent to the Ministry for payment must be accompanied by a Confirmation of work undertaken form.
  • You will need to complete an Update on proceedings reporting form and send it to the Ministry by 1 June each year until a decision has been made or settlement reached.
  • You will need to complete a final report and send it to the Ministry within four weeks of receiving the final decision of the Environment Court or board of inquiry.

Deed of funding

Confirmation of work undertaken form

Update on proceedings reporting form

Final report