The process to change nitrogen leaching rules in the Horizons region is creeping along - delayed by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Hearings on Proposed Plan Change 2 were to have begun early this year. Now they are scheduled for October, Horizons Regional Council chairwoman Rachel Keedwell said.

Table 14.2 in the council's One Plan sets out nitrogen leaching limits for intensive farming - such as dairy, cropping, commercial vegetable growing and intensive sheep and beef - in catchments with poor water quality.

When farms could not meet them, the council gave them consent on other grounds until Fish & Game and the Environmental Defence Society took it to the Environment Court in 2017.

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Since then 118 farms and 60 commercial vegetable growers that were without consent have carried on their activities unregulated.

The council is holding preliminary talks before independent commissioners Brent Cowie, David McMahon and Elizabeth Burge hear the submissions made on the proposed plan change.

It has appointed independent commissioner Christine Foster to meet with expert witnesses and submitters in an attempt to find points of agreement.

Pre-hearings are due to begin in September, the council's website says, with submitters heard in October.

The commissioners will make their decision after that, and it can be appealed to the Environment Court.