Federated Farmers has applauded the Government's call for more consultation on plans to increase access to waterways, but United Future has criticised its lack of courage.

The Herald revealed yesterday that Associate Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton planned to renew consultation on the controversial plan, acknowledging that he had failed to get enough public support.

He had earlier planned to introduce legislation before the election but has conceded that is highly unlikely to happen.

He has also suggested that when it is introduced, the bill is likely to be watered down, incorporating only the less controversial elements proposed.

The Government may push the more troublesome changes further down the track. Aside from the need to improve consensus, he admitted drafting problems - believed to include the failure to get caucus resolution on some key bones of contention - are also behind the change of heart.

While the Government has agreed in principle to compensate some landowners for extending access through their properties, it has yet to work out an exact formula.

The Government's Maori caucus has also opposed any intrusion on the property rights of communally owned Maori land.

Mr Sutton said: "There is controversy over Maori land. The Government has said there should be one law for all and Maori have said, 'hold on, there is a completely different history and legal structure surrounding Maori land'. Well, both these positions are hardly arguable, really."

While suspicious the Government may be engaging in little more than delaying tactics, Federated Farmers nevertheless welcomed the backdown.

Its land access spokesman, John Aspinall, said the the group would be asking the Government to first prove that there was a problem with the existing arrangement. If there were problems with access, they should be discussed on a case-by-case basis, he said.

United Future, which has merged with the Outdoor Recreation NZ Party, planned to support the bill's first reading.

Party spokesman Larry Baldock said: "It's not the time to run out of courage and pull back now. People should see the bill and it should be passed."

National agricultural spokesman David Carter said if Labour had the courage of its convictions, it would have made the bill an election issue.

"But how stupid does Jim Sutton think we are? Labour has only sidelined this for the time being. Farmers can expect it'll be back on the agenda if Helen Clark's anti-farmer gang get back into Government."