Publications: Research reports and publications

Structuring freshwater values: Meaning and conflict in a regional plan

1 January, 2013
Cawthron Report 2282. Prepared for Landcare Research and the Freshwater Values, Monitoring and Outcomes programme C09X1003, funded by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s Science and Innovation Group.


In 2010, the Tasman District Council (TDC) formally notified a proposed addition to a schedule of freshwater uses and values in its regional plan. Submissions from agricultural and hydro-electric interests on the plan change argued that the Council lacked clear protocols for identifying and documenting uses and values of freshwater bodies in the plan.

The formal process was put on hold in 2011 during a series of workshops to investigate ways to elicit, assess and balance competing values. After the workshops, the formal process resumed and the parties largely returned to their original positions, although changes were evident in how these positions were expressed.

The perspectives of the parties can be seen as competing narratives about the effect of listing freshwater values in the plan. Prevented (by the legal scope of the plan change) from debating the plan’s structure and how it gives effect to values, stakeholders contested the inclusion of the values themselves — an exercise in shadow-boxing.

The parties contested not so much what the schedule is, but what it might become. Tasman’s schedule of freshwater body values thus acts as a fulcrum around which stakeholders seek to influence freshwater management. By documenting and structuring information, the schedule makes certain values more salient and more easily articulated than others — and this shapes the field on which stakeholders make claims about desirable environmental and community futures.

The experience shows that the documentation process cannot be separated from the decision process for making trade-offs between values. The National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management 2011 puts an added imperative on councils to set objectives and limits for freshwater management based on national and community values, which has increased the need for ways to articulate and incorporate values in regional plans.

The Land and Water Forum has suggested that collaborative processes may be a way to identify and address value contests in a single process, rather than documenting values first and only later using these to guide decisions. Doing both as part of a single collaborative process could help to bring contests over values out of the shadows and into the light. This focuses the debate on how to accommodate competing values rather than whether to use an incomplete schedule of values – that could ultimately lead to more durable decision-making.