The proposed site of the GovHub.

A PLAN to locate more than 1000 state government and City of Greater Bendigo employees in a $90 million building to be established on the fringe of the central business district will be considered at next week’s council meeting.

Councillors will vote on a report that recommends the organisation commit to the proposed Bendigo GovHub project, and agree to sell the land it owns and operates from on Lyttleton Terrace so that the GovHub can be built on the site.

Chief executive officer Craig Niemann said the GovHub is a state government project which offered a new, centralised way of doing business focussed on enhancing customer service.

Critics of the project have cited the project’s anticipated cost as being unacceptable to ratepayers and questioned the merits and perceived benefits of the project, which its supporters say will help breathe new life into the heart of the city.

Mr Niemann said the lure of a promised 100 new state government jobs was central to the project’s appeal, but to date just 20 jobs with the Labour Hire Authority have been confirmed.

The GovHub would co-locate 400 City of Greater Bendigo staff with a range of state government departments, including the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Department of Jobs, Regions and Precincts, Parks Victoria and the promised 100 new public sector jobs.

Seven options have been presented to councillors for their consideration, with council expected to contribute a one-off cost of $7.285M to the project, to cover temporary office accommodation and office fitout, should the preferred option be adopted and the project proceed.

Mr Niemann confirmed the option recommended by external consultants Pricewaterhouse Coopers, which called for council to retain ownership of the land and enter into an agreement with the private sector with the asset reverting to council in 40 years, was deemed too expensive for the organisation.

The report notes the state government has already made a financial contribution to council and that it would seek further support to cover these costs, which will otherwise be spread across two or three financial years.

It also points to a projected $16.1M productivity saving to the city over 30 years, should the project proceed.

Mr Niemann said city staff were spread across seven buildings in the northern end of central Bendigo. Four of the buildings are owned by council and three are leased.

“It is proposed the four buildings council owns on the Lyttleton Terrace site, including the main building, would be removed to make way for the new development,” Mr Niemann said.

He said the city believes there are “real advantages in local government and state government being in the one building”.

By pursuing this option, the state government would be responsible for the development, construction and management of the project, and the City of Greater Bendigo would be a key tenant in the new premises.

“I don’t think that it necessarily means that we have to own our own buildings to be able to provide great services to the community and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Mr Niemann said.

The report outlines a range of benefits relating
to the proposed project, including:

• Create 90 construction jobs and contribute $131M to the Bendigo economy.

• 100 new public sector jobs (which would generate an additional 25 jobs through supply chain effects), injecting $28.8M annually to the local economy.

• Improved customer experience, creating a one-stop-shop for government services.

• Place an additional 600 workers in the city centre, enhancing the local economy and vibrancy of central Bendigo.

• Free up buildings currently leased by council, making them available for other businesses and services. Opportunity to develop the Epsom site currently used by DELWP for commercial or other use.

The 2013 Independent Review of the City of Greater Bendigo recommended advocating and planning for the consolidation of city offices to enable the more efficient delivery of services, with recommendation 11 calling for advocacy and planning for consolidation of city offices.

Office consolidation was also included as one of council’s top 10 priorities from the independent review.

Speaking to media at a briefing on Wednesday, Mr Niemann said the proposed GovHub building would not dominate the town hall and would likely be stepped back from Lyttleton Terrace.

“We’re going to be very conscious of the town hall…There’s a CBD structure plan that talks about building heights and locations and so on and it talks about potentially four and five and six storeys.

“You don’t want something that’s going to overshadow and look over the town hall. It’s our public building, a community building and a really important one, so that’s the jewel.

“We’ve got to make sure this is a fit for purpose building for government services.”

Mr Niemann also declined to be drawn into making comparisons to the more advanced Ballarat GovHub project, which involves up to 600 public sector jobs being moved out of Melbourne.

“I don’t think you can compare us to them. This is a very different model. We shouldn’t sneeze at 100 new jobs for Bendigo by the way.

“That’s a significant economic advantage for
our economy and our community.”

Peter Kennedy