Waipā District Council's efforts to highlight the district's heritage, including its role in the New Zealand Land Wars, has already created waves in Wellington.

Waipā's communication and engagement team is one of three Waikato organisations named as finalists in the Local Government New Zealand Excellence Awards 2018, which acknowledge leadership efforts nationwide.

It's the second time the Waipā team has been up for national accolades.

In 2015, Waipā won the top award for community impact for its success in engaging the community on its 10-Year Plan.

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Waipā District Council's Out of the Shadows project inspired conversation about Waipā's rich history, in preparation for a proposed significant increase in heritage investment, including plans for a Waipā Discovery Centre in Te Awamutu.

Judges praised it as "a novel approach that used an effective and well-designed campaign to address a complex issue of conflicting narratives about historical events.

"The project demonstrated broad community engagement that linked its history and fed through into its future planning."

Waipā District Council manager heritage and museums Tony Roxburgh said bus tours of historic sites out of Te Awamutu and Cambridge was one of the initiatives popular with the public.

Council ran about 17 tours, and there is still demand for one-off tours from visiting groups.

Tony says most participants commented that they learnt something new about our district and its history.

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He says word of mouth was a valuable advertisement.

He expects the competition at the Local Government New Zealand Excellence Awards to be tough, but says making the finals is good recognition for those involved with the project.

Waipā is up against six other finalists in the Fulton Hogan Excellence Award for Community Engagement.

Waipā also shares in a second finalist in the Excellence Award for Service Delivery and Asset Management — the Road Asset Technical Accord (RATA) programme initiated by the Waikato Mayoral Forum.

Judges said it was "an excellent example of nine Councils collaborating on roading, joining together to improve strategic road asset management planning with sharing of experience and knowledge that led to increased efficiency and effective regional service delivery".

For the North Waikato Integrated Growth Management Business Case, Waikato District Council, Auckland Council, Hamilton City Council, NZTA, the Waikato Regional Council, Auckland Transport, the Ministry of Education and two district health boards co-operating to develop a business case for managing and proactively planning for expected growth in the district over the next 30 years.

Judges welcomed the initiative as a holistic approach and "a means of future-proofing and preparing for clear challenges of future population growth".

Waikato District Council is a finalist in two categories — the Excellence Award for Best Practice in Governance, Leadership and Strategy, for its North Waikato Integrated Growth Management project, and in the Excellence Award for Best Practice Contribution to Local Economic Development category, for the Te Awa River Ride — Ngāruawāhia to Horotiu.

The collaborative project which delivered the Ngāruawāhia-to-Horotiu cycleway and new Perry Bridge Structure, has already resulted in visitor numbers using the new facilities increasing from 40 per day to over 700.

Judges said "this is an ambitious tourism infrastructure investment which provides the opportunity for positive long-term socio-economic growth and health wellbeing in the District".

Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull says that being named as a finalist is a significant achievement and reflects strong leadership and the innovative work being delivered by councils across the country.

"The finalists include some exceptional projects that are having a profound impact on communities," he says.

"The Excellence Awards finalists all demonstrate innovation, excellence in communication and consultation to involve communities in the decisions and planning which frame their future."

The finalists incorporate best practice criteria under LGNZ's CouncilMARK excellence programme which is designed to improve the public's knowledge of the work councils are doing in their communities and to support individual councils to further improve the service and value they provide.

"Overall the judges felt that the strongest entries demonstrated a strong strategic focus, clear outcomes, measured results, cost benefit analysis and engagement with external organisations — particularly a collaborative approach with stakeholders, and meaningful engagement with iwi and Māori."

This year had the highest number of entries in the awards' history.

Winners will be announced at the LGNZ conference dinner in Christchurch on Monday, July 16.