Those battling on either side of the controversial Water Conservation Order (WCO) have been given time to find a middle ground, with the gap between the application's hearings extended.

The first stage of hearing on the application - which seeks to protect the Ngaruroro River and 7km of the Clive River - ends this week.

Speaking on behalf of the WCO special tribunal yesterday, chair Richard Fowler said it would be pushing the reconvening date of stage two from May next year to July.

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There has been vast local opposition to the WCO, with the break between the stages "an excellent opportunity" for all involved to collaborate to reach common ground, Mr Fowler said. It also gave anyone "who may have missed the collaborative bus, such as the various iwi interests ... the opportunity to be brought on board."

This announcement was spurred by a large number of submitters basing their opposition on the WCO compromising the collaborative TANK process driven by the Hawke's Bay Regional Council.

"[This] will address, they say, many of the same issues relevant to the river and its broader systems," Mr Fowler said.

"That collaborative process, it is said, is regarded as precious and represents the best chance of a broader buy into a lasting outcome created by and within Hawke's Bay, rather than imposed by an outside agency."

Submitters were confident a consensus on TANK would be achieved and result in a plan change with broad community support.

He added the National Policy Fresh Water Statement - a planning tool which the council must comply with - required it to address many of the issues raised by the WCO applicants through a TANK plan change anyway.

The regional council would still have to report to the tribunal by January, and make TANK science available in April.

Regional council chief executive James Palmer said he thought this announcement reflected the "overwhelming weight of evidence" the tribunal had received.

"I think it's great that the tribunal has recognised the concerns of the community about the overlap of this [WCO] process with the community-driven process [TANK] ... and recognises the community's desire to manage the region's freshwater issues through a community process."

Lead WCO applicants Fish and Game did not respond to requests for comment.