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Published: 2001-03-30 00:00:00

Moves to give legal aid to community groups would be more useful at the beginning of the environmental consent system, according to Environment Waikato.

Community groups can now get legal aid to take a case to the Environment Court to appeal a consent decision. But councillors say assistance would be better used to provide technical and legal support when consents were first heard by Hearing Committees, rather than financing an appeal process.

The Council wants Local Government New Zealand to pursue the issue.

Regulatory Committee chairman Jim Howland said large sums of ratepayers’ money was being spent protecting Council decisions in the Environment Court. It was also important to provide enough judges so that decisions could be made in reasonable time.

He said Environment Waikato was the Council which promoted the idea of assisting organisations in the first place so that they were in a better position to obtain technical detail for a consent process, so it should also be the one to take up the issue now.

“I don’t know if people are aware of just what it costs this council to defend its decisions. That is a cost to the ratepayer.”

Cr Evan Penny said appeals to the court should be made only on matters of law. The Court was not there to re-hear a decision and there was some misconception that it was there to act as a Committee of Enquiry.

Cr Lois Livingston said there had to be room for people who did want to appeal to have some assistance to do so. However there were many vexatious appeals taken and no-one wanted to see that potential expanded.

Cr David Peart said often community groups felt that they could not match the expertise of the organisation whose actions they opposed and it was important that they could adequately challenge these plans. There should be no need to go to appeal if the technical assistance was there in the first place.

Chairman Neil Clarke said people proposing new activities were often put off by having to go to the Environment Court, and the court should interest itself only in matters of law. A task force investigating the process had found improvements could be made by making some adjustments to the requirements.