What is the draft Freshwater Plan Change?

He aha Te Panonitanga Mahere Wai Māori hukihuki?

The Freshwater Plan Change is our plan for improving the health of Te Taitokerau Northland’s freshwater – our region’s rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and aquifers.

It is made up of a package of changes to our Regional Policy Statement and Regional Plan (the ‘rule book’ for the use of Northland's natural resources), and it sets out our initial thinking about what the new vision, outcomes, limits and rules for freshwater should be. Sitting alongside the Freshwater Plan Change is the Action Plan, which identifies actions Northland Regional Council could take to help improve freshwater health.

Both the Freshwater Plan Change and the Action Plan are currently drafts. Neither of the drafts have any statutory weight in council’s processing of resource consents, and they will have no effect until they are notified, which is likely to be in several years' time. We’re working on the proposed versions of these plans – the next step in the process – using the feedback we received from the community during our consultation on the draft plans.

The Freshwater Plan Change – one piece of the puzzle

Once finalised, the Freshwater Plan Change will sit alongside other regulatory and voluntary initiatives for improving freshwater, including:

  • the many tāngata whenua, community and industry-led projects
  • Freshwater Farm Plans and other Government policy direction and regulations
  • Council support for landowners (e.g. the Kaipara Moana Remediation programme).

We need to change our rules about freshwater because the Government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 directs us to significantly improve freshwater health within a generation. It sets national bottom lines for freshwater that we must meet, such as E. coli levels (an indicator for disease causing organisms) and water clarity (an indicator of sediment).

The background work we’ve done shows that just to meet the Government’s bottom lines it’s likely there’ll need to be some big changes to activities and land use that impact on our freshwater.

Find out more about the current state of our freshwater

Following a change of government in October 2023, the new government set out its intention to replace national freshwater policy, but we don’t yet know what that might look like.

What we do know is that we have major challenges with our freshwater quality. Most of our streams, rivers and lakes are in a poor state. The strong message from tāngata whenua, communities and the government is that we must improve the health of freshwater to provide habitats for our native plants and animals, safeguard the health of our communities, and enhance our resilience to climate change. We need a plan for improving the health of our wai.

For more than three years we have been getting feedback and advice from tāngata whenua, government, industry, environmental groups, and our communities on what the draft Freshwater Plan Change should cover.

Three phases of engagement

We’ve broken our engagement into three phases:

Phase 1: Pre-draft
(2021 – early 2023)
  • Feedback and advice from a range of tāngata whenua, government, industry and environmental groups & organisations on what the Freshwater Plan should cover.
  • Awareness raising with the public about the plan change.
  • Asking people what they think is important about our freshwater and what needs to change. We asked people to identify freshwater places that were important to them (such as rivers and lakes) by dropping a pin on a map and then identifying what the key values and impacts were on the site.

An overview of the Freshwater Key Values and Impacts Survey is available in the report below:


Phase 2: Draft
(1 Nov 2023 - 31 Mar 2024)
  • This is when we shared our draft Freshwater Plan with the public for feedback. This was our main engagement phase with tāngata whenua and our communities.
Phase 3: Notification
(by December 2027)
  • This is the formal legal process, where we release our proposed Freshwater Plan and anyone can make a submission and then speak to the Freshwater Hearing Panel.

Key advisory groups

Two groups in particular guided the development of the draft plan change:

  • Tāngata Whenua Water Advisory Group. Established in 2020, the group is made up of tāngata whenua technical experts from Te Taitokerau with a wide range of freshwater kaitiaki expertise and experience. They have provided detailed advice and recommendations for developing the draft Freshwater Plan.

Learn more about the Tāngata Whenua Water Advisory Group

  • Primary Sector Liaison Group. Made up of representatives from primary sector industry organisations, this group provided a report outlining the issues facing the primary sector. The group developed a vision for the draft Freshwater Plan Change to help ensure:
    • the importance of the primary sector to Northland’s economy is recognised
    • the industry can thrive, and
    • appropriate land use is provided for.

They also provided advice on objectives and measures to improve freshwater.

Learn more about the Primary Sector Liaison Group

We acknowledge all those who have contributed to this draft plan, and we have listened carefully to all the views and recommendations put forward.