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Environmental Legal Assistance Scheme Underway

A scheme to provide funding to environmental and community groups to take cases to the Environment Court will be launched in Christchurch today.

The Acting Minister for the Environment, Pete Hodgson, says the legal assistance scheme is designed to help community groups to participate better in the resource management process. It will also help people focus their cases on the relevant issues.

"Increasingly, we are seeing that some sections of the community are not being included fully in the resource management process," Mr Hodgson said. "This new scheme will help address that problem."

The Ministry for the Environment is now accepting applications for the funding. The first decisions will be made by April.

About $1 million has been set-aside for the scheme from the green issues fund agreed between the Government and the Green Party at the Budget in June 2000.

"Many community groups have single-handedly been carrying the cost of speaking out on issues that are significant for the wider community," Mr Hodgson said. "The Government believes it is time that these groups were given some assistance so they can be better heard."

The Environmental Legal Assistance scheme is in two parts. The first will provide up to $20,000 to non-profit environment and community groups, including iwi and hapu, who are presenting cases to the Environment Court. The second will provide grants for education and advisory services on legal processes.

A separate grants scheme to either assist or establish environment centres has also been set up. It recognises the value of environment centres as publicly accessible places that provide information on a wide range of environmental issues and are available as places for environmental groups to meet.

The Ministry for the Environment will administer the schemes, with an independent advisory panel to give recommendations on legal assistance funding applications. Applicants should contact the Ministry or visit 'What’s New' at www.mfe.govt.nz

The launch is at the Christchurch Environment Centre, Monday 5 March at 1.30pm. Tim Barnett MP, Rod Donald MP, and Lindsay Gow (deputy CEO of the Ministry for the Environment) will attend.

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