AN estimated $120,000 separates costings for the option recommended to Bendigo councillors on the proposed GovHub, and the city building new offices.
The course of action recommended by the city’s staffers is estimated to cost ratepayers $36.9 million over 40 years, including renting office space in the proposed 1000-desk building.
The cost of replacing the council’s existing offices at Lyttleton Terrace with a new 440-desk building is estimated at $36.78 million.
City of Greater Bendigo chief executive Craig Niemann said building new offices was not the option recommended to councillors because it did not enable additional benefits associated with the GovHub.
These included bringing an additional 600 workers into central Bendigo, including 100 new public sector jobs.
He said the council would also pay interest on $36.78 million and incur additional costs in building maintenance, if it opted to build new offices.
In a report to councillors, city staffers noted building new offices would expose the council to construction risks, potential budget overruns, and increased financial sustainability risk.
It might also jeopardise council’s chances of receiving contributions and project management support from the state government, the report said.
City of Greater Bendigo February meeting agenda
A Regional Development Victoria spokesperson said the government remained committed to investing in its share of the $90 million project.
“And we hope the Greater Bendigo Council will continue to partner with us to ensure this exciting opportunity goes ahead,” they said.
The government will have to review its options if the council decides it no longer wants to be part of the development.
“The Victorian Government has been working collaboratively with council towards the GovHub project with the government investing $1 million in May 2017 to investigate the feasibility of a GovHub for Bendigo, followed by a further $16 million in May 2018 towards the delivery of the project,” the RDV spokesperson said.
The option recommended to councillors involves agreeing in-principle to the sale of the land on which the city’s Lyttleton Terrace offices stand, and becoming a tenant in a 1000-desk building the state government would develop, construct and manage.
It is one of seven options the city’s staffers have assessed, and the one deemed most feasible.
“Council would limit its exposure to high rental costs through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Victorian Government,” Mr Niemann said.
“The Valuer-General would also be involved in the process to approve the rent and ensure the costs are not excessive.
“This would protect council from any additional costs the project may gain throughout the construction period and lock-in an economic rent for a nominated period following completion of the project.”
Member for Bendigo East, Jacinta Allan is keen that the Bendigo GovHub proposal proceeds.
“The GovHub is a massive boost for Bendigo, delivering a one-stop shop for locals, bringing more jobs to the city and supporting the revitalisation of the CBD,” Ms Allan said.
“We’ll want to continue to work with council and community as we create the GovHub that will make our local economy and community even stronger.”
Member for Bendigo West, Maree Edwards has also been advocating for the project.
But she said discussions about how best to consolidate the council’s offices had been going since before she was first elected in 2010.
“It has been coming for a while,” Ms Edwards said.
Implementing ‘The Review’ report
The outline of the GovHub proposal features in a 2016 report on the implementation of an independent review of the City of Greater Bendigo, conducted three years earlier.
It references the council’s willingness to participate in a feasibility study of a state government proposal to “provide a one stop shop in regional centres through the co-location of government and public sector agencies, beginning with Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong.”
The chair of the 2013 independent review committee, Rod Hanson, is supportive of the GovHub proposal.
He believes it progresses one of the review’s 69 recommendations – ‘strongly advocate and plan for the consolidation of City of Greater Bendigo offices'.
“One would assume and hope council is getting good financial advice on all the options,” Mr Hanson said.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Your say on Bendigo GovHub
Ms Edwards was not aware of any conversations in the time she had been involved in the Bendigo GovHub proposal when a model comparable Ballarat’s and Morwell’s was considered.
Local councils are not involved in either project. The Bendigo GovHub is unique, in that sense.
“It will revitalise the [Bendigo] CBD, without a doubt,” Ms Edwards said.
She said the preferred site for the project was determined in conjunction with some of the work the city and the government were doing with revitalising the TAFE and plans for new law courts.
READ MORE: City set for construction blitz
The new Bendigo law courts are set to replace a TAFE building at the corner of Mundy and Hargreaves streets.
Bendigo TAFE’s city campus is set to undergo a $59.9 million redevelopment, including a new building at the corner of Hargreaves and Chapel streets.
The council is set to vote on the GovHub proposal on Wednesday.
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