The return of Matakana Island's Panepane Point to five local hapū has proved a winning project for the Western Bay of Plenty District Council.
The council was awarded the top prize, the Local Government Supreme Award, at the 2021 LGFA Taituarā Local Government Excellence Awards last night, the council said in a statement.
The council's transfer of ownership of Panepane Purakau also won the Minister of Local Government's Award for Excellence in Council/Community Relations.
The project was an initiative to return 172ha of land to the five hāpu of Matakana Island and involved a significant negotiation and community engagement process.
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The council inherited the land at no cost from the Tauranga Harbour Board under the Local Government reorganisation in 1989. In a landmark decision last year, the council voted unanimously to return the 172 hectares of land, commonly known as Panepane Purakau, to the five hapū.
Council chief executive Miriam Taris said it was a proud day for the council to have its efforts recognised for a project she said demonstrated how the council could work with its communities to fulfil their dreams and aspirations.
With a record number of public submissions received, 7549 in total, the campaign was described by a hapū representative as "a turning point in our community", and stronger ties were forged between all parties, Miriam said in the statement.
"This level of public interest shows this was a transparent, simple, strong campaign that captured the hearts and minds of the community," she said.
Judges' feedback included it being an exemplary initiative of successful engagement with Māori with strong elements of co-design, investment in relationships, and a commitment of time and resource to succeed.
Judges commended all partners for working together to right a historical wrong that fell outside the Treaty settlement process.