ALMOST an hour's debate preceded council's crucial vote on the Bendigo GovHub, which confirmed its commitment to sell the land where its former offices at Lyttleton Terrace stand and agree to become a tenant in the $90m development.
Here is the substance of each councillor's speech.
If you would like to listen along, the GovHub discussion starts about an hour and 31 minutes into the City of Greater Bendigo's YouTube recording of the meeting, embedded below.
What you need to know
Councillor Rod Fyffe moves the motion; Cr Malcolm Pethybridge seconds it.
It is carried, with six councillors voting in favour, two against, and one abstaining.
The motion is as follows:
1. In accordance with section 191 of the Local Government Act 1989 (Vic), approve to enter into a contract of sale with Development Victoria to sell the land located at 189-229 Lyttleton Terrace, Bendigo with the following key commercial terms:
a. Sale price of $5,500,000 excluding GST, as determined by the Valuer-General of Victoria
b. 10% deposit payable
c. Settlement, subject to conditions within the contract of sale
d. Subject to agreement to the terms of the proposed building lease (referred to in recommendation 3).
2. Approve the city's share of the Bendigo GovHub fitout costs of $10,028,498 and for these costs to be allocated in future budgets. The fitout costs will be offset from the proceeds of the sale of land and state government funding.
3. Approve for the city to enter into a lease agreement with the Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF) to become a tenant of the Bendigo GovHub with:
a. An initial lease term of 20 years; and
b. Two options for further terms of 10 years each
4. Note that the:
a. Commercial aspects of the transaction are within the upper limits prescribed by council at the February 2019 council meeting
b. Total cost for the city is estimated at $35.6M over 40 years
5. Authorise for the CEO, on behalf of council, to execute the documents required to finalise the sale of land and building lease transactions
6. Note the confirmation of funding from the Victorian Government as contribution to the city's temporary office accommodation and fitout costs."
Cr Rod Fyffe - voted for the GovHub
In one quote: "By not having our borrowings full up to capacity... what we have is the ability then to use our balance sheet to provide other services for our community."
Cr Fyffe believes the vote is an exciting one for the council, and "certainly an exciting one for the community, and more importantly it is, I think, in the long-term, medium-term and indeed the short-term, beneficial for the community."
"If we look at the sale of land over the road... we note that it is very, very close to the CBD. Very important, because of the number of jobs that it will bring. Very important, because of the activity it will bring. And very important, because it is part and parcel of what we want to achieve with an integration of services so that the customer can have a one-stop shop wherever they possibly can," he says.
"We also note that it is a small part of the total assets that we own, either in physical quantity or indeed in value. And, certainly, council is in the business of supplying services rather than being a landlord.
"We are supplying services to our community because they need it - we have statutory obligations - but more importantly, the nine people around this table and the officers have a commitment to our community to make sure we can get the best deal... for our community.
"We look at the fact we have a proposition that is basically de-risked for council. Yes, it will cost us. Yes, we are paying rates already and leases and rents and so-on like that on three different buildings."
Cr Fyffe says the City of Greater Bendigo occupies seven buildings, four of which it owns, three of which it rents.
He reflects on what can be achieved with a brand-new building that is being built by the state government, and mostly financed by the state government rather than council.
"What we will not be doing is borrowing to the hilt to make sure we are looking at maybe $90m for us to not only build a new office but also to have maybe some expansion and allow for that to be rented out in the intervening period," Cr Fyffe says.
"It is something we will not have the risk of - we've been de-risked. That is an important component for council. That is an important component for our community, because we will not be faced with the blowouts and other things that can go wrong with major projects like this.
"By not having our borrowings full up to capacity... what we have is the ability then to use our balance sheet to provide other services for our community, which is what they want.
"Whether it be football ovals... parks... community hubs for maternal and child health services, etc... what we have is an ability to actually fund them."
He says one of the arguments that has been put to him a few times is that council owns its Lyttleton Terrace offices and land - why doesn't it keep it?
Cr Fyffe reiterates that council is in the business of providing services, rather than being a landlord.
"If we're going to look at the real business that council owns, I think it's this one that we're sitting in," he says, pointing to the council chambers in the Bendigo Town Hall, from which the meeting is being broadcast live.
"This is the one we'd never sell in a blue fit, even though back in the 1970s it came within one vote of being knocked over.
"I think we have grown up. We've got a great appreciation of that and what can happen.
"Certainly I think we will have people having their own ideas on this particular topic... but for me I think it is an important position where we can combine with the state government - not be dominated by the state government, as some people think - but be part and parcel of a collective where the community can go, get serviced for local government, state government and hopefully federal government."
Cr Malcolm Pethybridge - voted for the GovHub
In one quote: "We can't afford to build the building... we can't spend money like that."
"I know it's going to be a good thing for Bendigo," Cr Pethybridge says, right from the start.
He observes that, when council made its in-principle decision to partake in the GovHub in February 2019, Cr Fyffe moved the motion and he seconded it.
"And we had the right outcome then. I hope we get the same now," Cr Pethybridge says.
"We voted for the state government to build the GovHub for $90m [in February 2019]. Over the last 15 months we've talked about it, we've advertised it, it's been on TV - I've seen it pop up on the news quite a few times, and I thought, 'Oh! There goes the GovHub!'
"We've had displays up here of the designs of the building. We've talked to the public. Yet we have some people say, 'We haven't seen it'.
"Well, get out and read the papers and have a look. If not, go on the Bendigo site, it's there. And, if not, I've spoken about it at meetings. I even did a talk at Mitiamo a while back and explained it all to the people and they said, 'Oh, thanks for that'.
"We have explained it as much as we can."
Cr Pethybridge moves on to something he recalls saying 15 months ago, when that in-principle decision was reached:
"In my talk I quoted the land was probably worth about $5m. And I froze for a while and I thought, 'Gee.' And I said, 'Well if anyone else can pay more than that I'll eat me hat.'
"Well, councillors, we get back from the state government, and our officers have done a great job, and they've said $5.5m for that little bit of land over there.
"Well, councillors, you could have knocked me over with a feather, I wouldn't believe that, but we've got it. Plus they sat there helping us move from one place to the next.
"It's good to work with the government. When the government and other offers work together, we can move mountains. And this is well known. You do things by yourself, it doesn't work. We work together, and that's what this is doing. We're going to work together."
He starts listing benefits of the course of action on the table, such as the state government paying for the demolition of the existing offices on Lyttleton Terrace, rather than the council.
"It is less than one per cent of all the land that Bendigo does own," Cr Pethybridge says.
"When the Bendigo council owns land, you know we don't get any rates off it? It costs us as ratepayers money to preserve them, look after it, run it, so if the state takes over, you never know what's going to happen with the rates. We might end up getting rates off it in the long run."
He delves further into the benefits of consolidating offices and working alongside state government.
"In this office there is going to be DELWP... registration branch... Regional Roads... and who knows what other government departments. We might even get a couple of state and federal politicians in there with us. The security up there is pretty high," Cr Pethybridge says.
"And there will be others. I've heard even Coliban Water might be interested."
He says the council will be paying rent for the GovHub in 50 years' time, though the costing estimate in the agenda is for 40 years.
"We can't afford to build the building... we can't spend money like that," Cr Pethybridge says.
"But over 50 years of paying rent, it's not even quarter of the price of rebuilding a building like this... it's nothing, really, and we're not putting the load of this price onto the Greater City of Bendigo.
"Quarter of the price it is, over 50 years. Now, that also brings in the building doesn't have to be maintained by the council... it won't be owned by us. We don't have to foot this bill."
Cr Pethybridge says the state government departments council is likely to be working alongside are "who we work with all the time, so we're going to all come together".
Cr George Flack - Opposed the motion before the council
In summary: There are other options the council could explore, which would allow it to retain ownership of the building in which it houses its offices.
"I believe the City of Greater Bendigo is capable of either, one, borrowing funds from the banks or other financial institutions in order to... because we've got lower rates than 15 months ago, obtain leases and construct such a building that continues to become ratepayer owned and operated," Cr Flack says.
"The council also can obtain funding from investment fund managers to buy in and then sell off their leases to other funds... to other people that want to obtain leases and occupy the building.
"It can be organisations such as the Super Fund of Australia or other investment fund managers, which I'm fully aware of quite a number of them, construct the building and offer additional car parking for all those occupants and those that want to come to visit there.
"Under each scenario the council still owns ownership for the ratepayers and doesn't require any RDV [Regional Development Victoria] contributions necessary."
Cr James Williams - Voted for the GovHub
In one quote: "For me, it's a bit like comparing a Fordson Tractor to a John Deere: You can paint the Fordson green, but it's still not going to deliver what a John Deere tractor with all its computers and modern technology can do."
"Any way you look at this, this is a great offer," Cr Williams says, pretty much from the get-go.
"I've heard all the rhetoric. I've heard about, 'Oh it's not a great deal' etcetera, or, 'Someone else got a better deal...'
"We're not dealing with what anyone else got. We're dealing with what the government put on the table."
Cr Williams describes what the government put on the table as following: "100 jobs, integration of our government services, the opportunity to provide our community a far better service, a one-shop location that actually provides integration with other departments, which we work with all the time... and that leads to better outcomes. Better outcomes for our community, better outcomes for our staff."
Cr Williams says the council headquarters at Lyttleton Terrace was built in the 1970s for one government organisation - one of five, at the time.
"Bendigo council itself would have been 20,000 - 30,000 people. We are now dealing with 110,000 people, we have 1000 staff, roughly 600 full-time," he says.
"We know in the future, and certainly under this COVID-19, we've learnt other ways to work and we know things will change - working remotely, being able to connect and communicate through computers, etcetera. But we know, also, that that office doesn't provide us with that opportunity.
"The WiFi doesn't work as well as we'd like, it's slow, it's inefficient, and it was built 50 years ago. It can't meet current standards, and even if you tried to add another storey to it, it still won't meet current standards. It would need to be knocked down and start again."
Cr Williams says knocking the existing building down and starting over was the cheapest of the seven options put before councillors in February 2019, when they arrived at an in-principle decision to sell the land and become a GovHub tenant.
"And that's the only option that could work in terms of that. We then looked at those figures, we looked at borrowing, we looked at a boot [I think?] system where you actually retain ownership and you purchase or, I guess, pay it off over time," he says.
"They were all out-of-bounds, as far as our finances were concerned. They placed very restrictive, I guess, implications on our budgets and it meant that capital works and future facilities for the community would be put at risk, and future councils.
"This offer is a fantastic offer. It de-risks it: If we built that, it would have been singly our biggest project ever undertaken. It would have required staff time. And we would have had all the risk associated with it."
Cr Williams says the council has already seen "through the drilling etcetera" - and the government had learned from the other projects it had taken on - that there could be "a lot of unforseens and a lot of risks" associated with projects like the GovHub.
"I think in Ballarat they discovered an old stash of bottles down a mine shaft, those sorts of things," he says.
"Councils should not be in the business, generally speaking, of doing these developments.
"We actually saw it with Gurri Wanyarra, where we had a water issue and our contingencies cost us... but it's a lot more than that."
Cr Williams starts listing other projects council is involved in, saying "we've seen the confidence in this city and in the private investment of people coming here."
"The three motels didn't happen by accident. People don't put that sort of money, the $30m it's going to cost for each of those developments, unless they've got confidence in the city, in the jobs and in growing it," he says.
He says some of the developments before council - namely, the GovHub and three proposed hotels - could see roughly 2000 more people in the city centre.
"What a huge change. You talk about revitalising the CBD, about saving our traders, about actually putting money back in the tourism sector. What are the areas that are really hurting at the moment? It's the motels, it's the tourism, it's the pubs, it's the restaurants, it's the recreational and entertainment sector, it's the retail sector," Cr Williams says.
"What this does is build confidence in our region and in our city."
Cr Williams says Bendigo is a city that has grown to service a much bigger area.
"What we're becoming is a real hub," he says.
"So, for me, from the days of a building that serviced possibly 20,000 people and had a staff probably a third of that, what we're giving is an efficiency to our staff to run a city that potentially will be 200,000 people in 50 years time."
He comes toward the end of his speech with the following gem:
"For me, it's a bit like comparing a Fordson Tractor to a John Deere. You can paint the Fordson green, but it's still not going to deliver what a John Deere tractor with all its computers and modern technology can do, and for me it's that simple."
Cr Jennifer Alden - Abstained from the vote
In one quote: "I dislike being treated like a rubber stamp."
"Civic infrastructure can create a lasting legacy. This proposal certainly does that, and as I said last year, I'm definitely in favour of a GovHub," Cr Alden says.
"The efficiencies and opportunities for improved outcomes in the workplace support the development of one."
She acknowledges the GovHub, with its co-location of two levels of government, has created some anxiety about the risk in the community.
"This is partly due to council previously having wanted to retain ownership of the historic civic precinct site; concern about the possibility of rent creating an impost on ratepayers; plus now an added concern about the business case being done in a pre-COVID-19 era, with interest rates dropping since it was developed," Cr Alden says.
"Council staff have moved from the building to temporary accommodation, expressions of interest have been advertised for demolition and for wood for the construction, with a view to commence in mid-2020. The project is well and truly underway."
She says it might be difficult to find a buyer for Bendigo's GovHub, if it follows the trend of Ballarat's.
"The state government could ultimately, similarly, become the owner. That would allow for re-structure of the financial arrangements, which would be needed as rates would not be able to be paid then," Cr Alden says.
"It could set a precedent for other local governments and is, in my opinion, therefore unlikely."
"In the lead-up to last year's in-principle decision I asked many questions. I asked about the re-use of the existing building, and that was costed.
"I was also of the opinion that a car park option should have been progressed as a potential revenue source. I still believe it should have been done as part of the business case.
"Since then, I've continued to ask many questions as part of my due diligence responsibility, and I thank director Andrew Cooney for his patience in response.
It is also well-known internally I have advocated at every opportunity and to the highest levels for the project to be a leading example of what can be aspired to in sustainable design, construction and function."
She says she also advocated for the inclusion of the existing mature lemon scented gum into the building's footprint, which was achieved.
The designs for the Bendigo GovHub had been likely to result in the most sustainable government building in Australia.
"However I've recently learned, disappointingly, it will not be - the City of Greater Geelong's new civic precinct will be," Cr Alden says.
She goes on to propose a question: "When is a decision not a decision? When it is a foregone conclusion."
And that's when the reasons for her abstinence from the vote become clearer.
"Last year it was stated that the recommended option, if it was not approved, the state government might withdraw support. And once more this is the case," Cr Alden says.
"During my time as a councillor, I've come to believe that true independence of council and councillors is best for the community."
"This current process gives the im...
Cr Matt Emond raises a point of order.
"Misinformation: Local government does not lose independence by cohabitating in a building with another government department," he says.
"Agreed and accepted. Thank you," the mayor responds.
Cr Alden finishes her sentence.
"This current process gives the impression that we're under the direction of Spring Street," she says.
"So, in conclusion, over 15 months the processes in place make tonight's decision appear a mere formality.
"I dislike being treated like a rubber stamp. It's for that reason and the process issues alone that lead me to once more support the concept but once more abstain from the decision."
Cr Andrea Metcalf - Opposed the motion before the council
In one quote: "The owner of a preferred site might think they are in a strong position to negotiate a good deal. We have this deal - a poor one, in my opinion."
Cr Metcalf's first sentence: "I am beholden to the community that elected me, not the organisation."
She says she's not had one person contact her urging that she support the deal.
Cr Metcalf proceeds to provide "the complete background" to the GovHub proposal, which informed her decision.
"It has been incorrectly stated that the decision to advocate and plan for office colocation was recommended as part of the 2013 Independent Review," she says.
"Tonight's report correctly states that the Independent Review recommended the city advocate and plan for consolidating its own offices.
"There is a big difference between the two outcomes."
She says a review of key decisions offered insight into how one became the other.
"The Independent Review is used as evidence of extensive community consultation. In February 2019, I requested data to substantiate how many review submissions related to office consolidation," Cr Metcalf says.
"This was denied to me by the city on the grounds that it would unreasonably divert or extend council resources to fulfil such a request.
"Shortly after, a member of the public alerted me to this information in the review appendices. In five minutes, I could identify that two of the 129 submissions made any reference to office consolidation. None referred to colocation with other government agencies.
Cr Metcalf says she has no knowledge on whether these submissions were community or staff related.
"However, former mayor, councillor and member of the Independent Review committee, Lisa Ruffell has stated she can remember no community submissions relating to office consolidation. Instead, her understanding was that the CEO and then city futures director vigorously pursued office consolidation with the review's consultants," Cr Metcalf says.
"In March 2015, the city CEO was appointed to an external advisory board to the state government. In May 2015, council responded to Independent Review recommendation eight. The brief of recommendation eight was: to investigate the separation of the economic development unit, art gallery, etc into a separate entity from city futures.
"Ultimately endorsed were recommendations authored by the CEO. They proposed city futures be refreshed with an expanded brief to secure decentralising of government services to Bendigo, possibly through joint venture development with the private sector.
"In July 2015, the external advisory board released its final report. It recommended the state government adopt a one-stop-shop approach to service delivery through colocation of local, state government and public sector agencies over time in Bendigo."
Cr Metcalf says council endorsed to complete recommendation 11 in June 2016, along with another four recommendations.
"Under actions, the report from that meeting states: the cost sharing and co-tenancy arrangement with government agencies is regarded as the only financially realistic means by which a new Bendigo civic precinct could be developed," she says.
"The points I take from this are: Nowhere can I see evidence of extensive community consultation. Key decisions were always made as part of broader agenda items, rather than as standalone decisions.
"I've seen no evidence to support the cost sharing, co-tenancy statement. None of these decisions discuss the sale of council-owned land to facilitate a colocation arrangement. That position evolved when the site was identified as the preferred site.
"I'm not opposed to a GovHub. It is the sale of this community's land that remains the roadblock to my support. If independent analysis pointed to this option as the standout, then my opinion might change."
She moves on to the independent and expert analysis.
"Price Waterhouse Coopers, PwC, were engaged by council to assess four options against a fifth base case to do nothing. Tonight's recommendation was ranked third of the four. That's my first red flag," Cr Metcalf says.
"PwC cautioned that rental modelling figures were higher than similar state government tenanted offices. Red flag.
"Councillors requested that additional options to extend the current premises or build its own 440-seat office be assessed. For unexplained reasons, these options were assessed by a different consultant, Urbis. It was considered by Urbis that demolition and construction of new premises was preferred of these two options. The additional options have not been provided to PwC for consideration and potential re-ranking of all options - red flag.
"An option for council to build its own 400-desk office has never been assessed - red flag. The project costs for council to build a 440-desk office, not 400, are almost identical to that of the current recommendation and were modelled on interest rates over double those available now, as Cr Flack has referred to.
"The draft Urbis report was provided to councillors on the 16th of January, 2019. No final report has ever been provided. Just one month later, councillors voted in-principle to support the current recommendation."
Cr Metcalf says it has been suggested that borrowings required to fund council's own construction would likely increase financial sustainability risk.
"Tonight's budget shows a borrowings graph indicating a clear downward trend in interest-bearing liabilities over the next five years," she says.
"Additionally, it is stated that the city will likely borrow and move into the medium-risk category in the coming years.
"In September 2019, the draft City Centre Plan came before council, with the now endorsed action to investigate the construction of a carpark in the Market Street precinct."
She says the cost "could be as much or higher than a council-built office complex."
"The timeline for councillors to be advised how this will be funded has not yet arrived," Cr Metcalf says.
"I wonder if this is a possible reason for the anticipated move to medium-risk.
"One potential funding solution is to sell nearby surface car parks. This is the same one I raised to help fund our own office build. That was tritely dismissed.
"Those in the community who think councillors opposed to this deal offer no serious long-term solutions might not be fully informed."
Cr Metcalf moves on to reasons she believes the city arrived at the recommendation it did.
"I note former Cr Ruffell's opinion that, in her term, council officers selectively provided councillors information that steered them to believe the only option was to sell the council land to construct a GovHub," she says.
"The owner of a preferred site might think they are in a strong position to negotiate a good deal. We have this deal - a poor one, in my opinion.
"Against the benefits often highlighted, significant community loss for future generations must also be considered. Losses such as: an appreciating asset being sold to partially fund an office fitout, committing to a long-term rental burden that could otherwise serve as a loan in a low interest rate environment."
Cr Metcalf says it is simplistic to think dividing the $35.6m estimated project cost by 40 years might provide an estimate of the rental burden.
"It's not close, and the numbers are eye-watering. Big red flag, for me," she says.
"Regarding offsetting rental costs with efficiencies, PwC warned that forecast productivity increases are on the assumption they are realisable. From my experience, they will likely fade after a honeymoon period. The rental commitment will last 40 years, though."
"When the true costs are revealed in future annual reports, I doubt the public will be convinced that their improved customer service experience has been value. I believe that nearly all benefits, including economic stimulus, were transferrable to a council-built office and separate state government building, which was committed in policy. However, I believe we've been steered towards only one option since 2016."
Cr Metcalf says those that consider the GovHub "the panacea for city centre revitalisation might do well to look at the Bendigo Bank complex to examine how quickly business needs can change."
"Completed just 11 years ago, this complex now houses a significant portion of this organisation," she says.
I believe she is referring to the temporary council offices in Fountain Court, for context.
"And what might workplaces look like post-COVID-19? The Financial Review last week stated: 'The Victorian public service were giving consideration to resetting our thinking remote learning to make it more conventional, rather than the exception.' None of that thinking informs the proposal before us," Cr Metcalf says.
Cr Matt Emond - Voted for the GovHub
In one paragraph: "The sale of this land is prudent to secure the prosperity for future generations in Greater Bendigo. It's one of those once-in-a-generation opportunities... an opportunity too good to miss."
Cr Emond uses portions of his speech as a response to Cr Metcalf's.
He even uses his time to publicly ask questions of City of Greater Bendigo chief executive officer Craig Niemann and corporate performance director Andrew Cooney.
"The decision before us tonight is to fulfil an agreed in-principle sale of land, as per the February 2019 council decision," Cr Emond says, to start with.
"In that same meeting, we've already committed to becoming a tenant in a Bendigo GovHub."
He says he feels there was "a bit of an unfair representation of the attempts of the organisation to provide councillors with all information.
"I personally, three...three and a half years ago, wasn't necessarily convinced that selling our land was necessarily the best way forward," Cr Emond says.
"A lot of reading, a lot of researching, a lot of questions led me to my decision.
"I find it a little bit insulting to suggest that the CEO is leading directors or leading councillors who are duly elected and have the right to make a decision in this chamber... an insulting comment."
Cr Emond says, if memory serves him correctly, it was a last-minute request from councillors to seek an additional two items of modelling to look at the GovHub.
"That was our right as elected representatives, and we did exercise that, and the CEO duly responded," he says.
"We couldn't get Price Waterhouse Coopers."
Cr Emond asks Mr Niemann: "What was the timeframe, in your recollection, and why would a different consultant have been engaged in that time?"
Mr Niemann says: "I'm trying to recall the timeframe, Councillor Emond. It was... would that be late 2018 when that work was completed. What I can say is that the work was the work was completed, I believe, to the satisfaction of the council because the council considered the options, the additional options, that were presented by Urbis and considered that with the Price Waterhouse Coopers options. So it was in that timeframe of sort of middle to late 2018."
Cr Emond shifts his focus back to the proposed sale of the land, which he says means the asset can be better utilised.
"Currently residents are restricted to accessing the breadth of council services, spread across multiple sites, and it is not the most welcoming location," he says.
"City employees have been working in an environment challenged by technological and sustainability constraints in a workplace not designed for the 21st Century.
"The sale of this land does open up space and opportunity for the people of Greater Bendigo. The sale of this land also opens up a massive opportunity for sustainability in the city."
Cr Emond says the sale of the land paves the way for "prudent economic management that ensures we are absolving the city of any undue risk."
He says the council considered "going it alone", but to do so would place the city in the high-risk category.
"One of the questions tonight pertaining to GovHub stipulates very clearly that under the guiding principle, 'affordability and financial stability' that that waived out that notion of going it alone," Cr Emond says.
He outlines some of the potential outcomes of 'going it alone': "Putting us in a high-risk category, constraining our balance sheet to cater for the build, and the organisation doesn't benefit as other projects become less likely, as all our eggs are placed in one basket."
Cr Emond then puts a question to Mr Cooney: "In the current interest rate environment, would this significantly reduce the risks on a go-it-alone approach for a new office space for the city?"
Mr Cooney responds as follows:
"We haven't done any of the analysis around low interest rate loans... on the simple fact that the resolution that we're working to from council from back in 2019 was to become a tenant in the Bendigo GovHub, and the financial impact and the financial risk also needs to be considered as far we understand from the council guidance in February that the interest is one part, the construction and development risks are other factors in the council's decision for us to become a tenant in the GovHub, as a preference."
Cr Emond says council is not equipped to deal with the risks associated with building what he cites as a $50m [if my ears do not deceive me] project.
"We have someone else taking all the risk, and we're only selling one asset. We're only letting go of one per cent of all the land the City of Greater Bendigo owns," he says.
"What the sale of this land does create is 100 new public sector jobs, which contribute to 25 new jobs due to supply chain and consumption effects; 90 construction jobs, contributing $131m to the Greater Bendigo economy; and wage savings forecast at $16.1m from productivity increases.
"The sale of this land is prudent to secure the prosperity for future generations in Greater Bendigo. It's one of those once-in-a-generation opportunities... an opportunity too good to miss."
Cr Susie Hawke - Voted for the GovHub
In one quote: "I can only see the plus side of this at the moment, especially when we're in a new environment where we do need to focus on rebuilding our community and moving forward in a positive direction".
Cr Susie Hawke wasn't on council when the in-principle decision was made in February 2019, and that's pretty much the first thing she says.
However, she says she has had multiple sessions and briefings to catch her up and answer her particular questions about how the decision came about and the 'pros and cons'.
Cr Hawke says she has received a number of emails and phone calls from community members not happy with the recommendation.
"I'm not the sort of person that just sits idly by and will just go with what is told to me," she says.
"I do like to know all of the background so I can make a truly informed decision."
Cr Hawke says she can see the economic benefits of the recommendation.
"I truly believe it is a good financial and economic decision, and I wouldn't usually have this thought front-of-mind, as my background is in health and wellbeing," she says.
"But it is also about community health and wellbeing, really."
If the city centre is more vibrant, if there are more opportunities for new employment, if there are efficiencies in work practices, and the development of a building that is more environmentally sustainable, Cr Hawke says people's health and wellbeing will benefit.
"Another plus I can see with moving forward with this recommendation is that it provides the go-ahead, basically, to develop a brand new workplace, not only for the City of Greater Bendigo staff but also for other government department staff," she says.
"And you really can't underestimate the impact of a new building and a new way of working to improve the culture of a workplace.
"This will inevitably lead to improved work performance, improvements in recruitment and retention of staff, all of which the City of Greater Bendigo will reap the rewards from."
Cr Hawke says she understands people having different opinions on the decision, and acknowledged them all.
"Any change can be difficult sometimes, especially when you feel like the decisions are made without your input," she says.
"But I do believe the City of Greater Bendigo have done all they can to try to bring everyone along with this decision. I think they have been open, honest and transparent, as much as possible.
"And I can only see the plus side of this at the moment, especially when we're in a new environment where we do need to focus on rebuilding our community and moving forward in a positive direction.
"I think this is a really great starting point."
Cr Margaret O'Rourke - Voted for the GovHub
In one paragraph: "Council is not in a financial position to build the GovHub on its own. A building just for city staff would not meet the needs of the further activation of the city centre by bringing more people to work in it."
"It was very clear to me the reasons why this project was very significant," the mayor says early on.
"Having staff located across seven sites is not sustainable.
"Seven years on since the Independent Review... I still see the issues that were brought to me as one of those independent members that came to being recommendation 11.
"So they weren't directly in those submissions and as Cr Metcalf said, there were two, but the absolutely could see the reasons why they were coming.
"And Aurecon actually put that forward to the panel and said, 'The gaps in these issues are because of the spread of your organisation'."
The mayor says it is very difficult to improve processes when there are current gaps and workplace inadequacies.
"There are countless times councils over successive terms have grappled with office accommodation," she says.
"The financial risk is too significant to build the GovHub ourselves, in my view.
"And if the City of Greater Bendigo was to go it alone, it would be placed into a high financial risk category, under the Victorian Auditor-General's guide."
Cr O'Rourke says the decision was made to become a tenant in the GovHub when it was de-risked for the city, and a "much more realistic outcome was achieved".
She says the GovHub will create a one-stop shop for the community, with the colocation of state government departments, as well as bringing together many city sites that have been separated for years "in what is regarded as average to poor accommodation".
"This decision is at a cost of $36.5m over 40 years, which includes the lease costs," she says.
Cr O'Rourke has since confirmed the correct sum is $35.6m, consistent with the information provided to media and published in the agenda.
Continuing on with Wednesday's speech:
"It gives the city flexibility and the ability to continue to invest in community projects," Cr O'Rourke says.
"It was a decision by councillors in October 2019 to enter into a lease for the City of Greater Bendigo to occupy Fountain Court and to enable the decanting of Lyttleton Terrace as part of the process of agreeing to be part of a GovHub.
"Since that decision there has been significant work carried out by city staff in particular, moving customer support from Lyttleton Terrace to Hopetoun Street and shifting 200 staff to Fountain Court.
Cr O'Rourke says discussions since then have centred around preparing staff for more modern and efficient working conditions, and better integration, derived from consolidating offices.
"Discussions have also progressed with the Victorian Government and Development Victoria to prepare for tonight's decision," the mayor says.
"For me, there has never been any doubt that this project is exactly what central Bendigo needs.
"Now, we find ourselves in these unprecedented times, and with the impact of COVID-19 bearing down on us, it has never been more critical for our city and region to have a project such as this to create jobs and boost our local economy."
She says she has had many retailers speak to her in recent weeks, asking if the GovHub project was going ahead.
"And I said to them, 'It's still up to a council vote'," Cr O'Rourke says.
"There are many of those retailers that look at GovHub and the other projects for the future of their businesses.
"The Bendigo GovHub, together with TAFE development, the new law courts, the proposed CFA headquarters and also the rehabilitation of the Bendigo hospital, represent a pipeline of work that will employ hundreds of local people and deliver many flow-on effects to complementary businesses.
"These projects represent an investment of around $400m, with work commencing immediately and continuing over the next few years. Any city, anywhere, would be envious of this type of development."
Cr O'Rourke says she has no doubt the public sector investment has created a level of confidence in already reinvigorating the private sector development in applications "we have not seen anything like before."
"These are all, obviously, still to go through planning processes," she says.
"When these projects are complete, there will be more people in the city centre for work, education and business... there's more people buying coffees, buying lunch, supporting retailers and catching up socially in our restaurants and pubs at the end of the working week.
"This is [a] once in a generation chance to reshape our city centre, to see central Bendigo further grow into a thriving, modern regional city."
She says an office complex like the Bendigo GovHub will attract people to live and work in the region.
"In my experience of serving on the board of Bendigo Health when the hospital underwent its redevelopment, projects like this change the experience for the customer, and the calibre of staff that want to work there, too. The Bendigo GovHub will do the same," Cr O'Rourke says.
"The customer is at the heart of the experience, benefiting from the centralised model of delivering government services. This is what comes to the central elements of many of the submissions of the Independent Review.
"The secondary issue of that was the fact that departments were spread across the city. This project makes the customer at the central element.
The mayor says she understands not everyone in the community is happy with the recommendation to sell the land.
"But on the balance, and having considered seven different development models, this is the right decision for council and the community, in my view," she says.
"Council is not in a financial position to build the GovHub on its own. A building just for city staff would not meet the needs of the further activation of the city centre by bringing more people to work in it.
"In agreeing to tonight's recommendation, council will be giving itself the flexibility it needs in the years to come, as the role of local government evolves.
"What will service delivery models look like in the future? We won't know, but we won't be tied down by this building, and we will have the flexibility to be able to move and change."
Cr O'Rourke thanked people for contacting her about the decision, with both positive and negative feedback.
She says she has listened, but she feels she needs to make a decision for the whole of the municipality.
"It is in Greater Bendigo's and the region's best interests if this project proceeds. It is our role under the local government act to evaluate decisions in this way," she says.