AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL BENDIGO COUNCILLORS
The following has been sent to all councillors of the City of Greater Bendigo for their attention and individual response.
We seek your understanding as we put to you further evidence that the Lyttleton Terrace site not be sold for the purposes of a GovHub.
This is an open letter to each Councillor. We believe in transparency and the public’s right to know, and have nothing to hide. Greater Bendigo residents will be informed of its contents and your response.
We genuinely believe that the majority of Greater Bendigonians are of the opinion that council’s proposed sale of the council office sites in Lyttleton Terrace to the government for a GovHub construction, and the paying of rent for council’s consolidation and co-location of just 400 desks into that complex is well short of detail such that it is incomprehensible and therefore not in the best interests of the residents of Greater Bendigo.
Our own strong position is well known to you. We are though concerned that some people in council, by commission have coloured your thinking about the proper matters we raised, and skewed your analysis unfavourably. At this stage the majority councillors’ position is only an in-principle decision to sell the land, and is not legally binding.
In the near future you will be asked to support an officer recommendation to approve the sale of the land, and, if you comply, that will be legally binding. As we have noted previously, it appears council will receive no market value return for the buildings.
We have made it clear to all councillors the project from the start has been officer steered. Council’s passing on to the public of prejudiced and partial information via reports, the media, or government pronouncements, are not substitutes for public engagement or consultation which both the 2013 Independent Review and the government’s own websites considered essential.
Just one example of prejudiced and partial information designed to mislead. The 20 February 2019 officer report could not identify any true community consultation or communication, so concocted this underhand claim by conflating a part truth with a lie to imply that somehow office co-location came as a result of ‘heavy’ community consultation: “The decision for Council to advocate and plan for office co-location was recommended as part of the Independent Review [IR] process. The community was heavily consulted during this time when the independent consultants interviewed 120 people and reviewed 129 submissions.”
The actual IR Recommendation 11 wording was “Advocate and plan for the consolidation of CoGB offices”; no mention of co-location. None of the IR’s 129 public submissions identified office consolidation or co-location. Nor was office consolidation or Office co-location ever put before the community for ideas or comment, never! not even by the council’s own Independent Review Implementation Committee.
Greater Bendigo community has been kept out of the processes by council despite claims to the contrary. There has been no public meeting Q&A nor any exchange of views and ideas around office consolidation co-location. No detailed analysis of all available options, no breakdown of each claimed benefit, no analysis of any disadvantages. How could residents possibly feel confident about what is happening when they have been kept in the dark, treated like children, and fed crumbs?
It is therefore time for you as a councillor and the residents’ representative to reflect, reconsider, study new information and insights, and then decide the best option for residents. Do not be distracted by previous Council decisions or government claims of the benefits of a GovHub - benefits that are separate to, and, in the main, attainable without co-location.
In the absence of past good process, we therefore ask you, before you make your final decision, to give full consideration to the following matters without seeking advice from the council executive. Be your own judge. Consider the list a prompt. It is an incomplete list. Of course, the matters are detailed and requires a detailed level of knowledge and understanding to both unravel the complexities and to make an informed decision on behalf of ratepayers; to that extent you are obligated.
1. At any time between August 21, 2013 and February 20, 2020, did the CEO provide you with:
a) A Council Asset Register valuation for the council office sites in Lyttleton Terrace?
b) An independent market value valuation for the council office sites in Lyttleton Terrace?
c) The latest international research on the failure of office consolidation open plan desk hot-desk design and staff productivity and collaboration?
2. The 15 June 2016 Council Meeting minutes note, “Council has written to the Government advising it would be willing to participate in a feasibility study of such a proposal”.
3. Why were the six other GovHub possible sites the government investigated not presented to council for consideration, as one of those sites may have been a better alternative to Lyttleton Terrace to achieve broader council objectives?
4. Give an explanation why the basic information around a project between two government entities is considered commercial in confidence.
5. GovHub council’s annual rent
a) Do you know the annual rent Council is going to pay in the GovHub?
b) How does this rental compare to the current rental/repair costs the COGB pays now for the existing facilities?
c) How does it compare to the rental costs the COGB will pay for leasing premises in the Bendigo Fountain Court building?
6. Given the anticipated growth of the City and co-related growth in council staff numbers, what provisions are in place to cater for more than the current 400 COGB staff desks in the GovHub?
7. How did the mistake attributed to PWC regarding option 3 - the assumption that all tenants paid consistent quantum of rent per square metre - come about? Was it made as a result of poor wording of the terms of reference provided by council? Why did council need to consult with the government if council was undertaking an independent analysis?
8. The proposed Market Street Carpark ratepayer burden
a) What is the total cost of the Carpark and how will it be funded?
b) If the COGB funds the proposed carpark what will be the impact on the COGB finances?
c) If the COGB decides to fund a carpark, why couldn’t it fund a standalone office complex for Council Staff to be housed in?
9. Can you provide a succinct explanation of the breakdown of the $8.7M income from sale of land and Victorian Government contribution?
10. On pp 53-54 of the 20 February 2019 officer report it was noted: Aside from investigating the financial costs, the following Council guiding principles have also been considered in determining the best option. Explain why there is no record in the officer report of the principles being applied to the other six consolidation options and the outcomes of that assessment.
11. How is it that the CEO can commit significant council resources, take out lease arrangements, make customer service more complex, and move substantive office desks, when Council has not yet made a final decision to sell the Lyttleton Terrace properties; only an in-principle decision has been made?
12. Given past failures to revitalise the CBD (Hargreaves Mall, Walk Bendigo, and even the Bendigo Bank Complex) what firm research has been provided to you to support that the project will lead to the enhancing of the economy and vibrancy of central Bendigo and ongoing success of businesses in the areas from which the claimed 500 additional workers (600-100new) will be relocated from?
13. What consideration did you give to the loss of the historical significance of the main office building, and the importance and value of its encompassing open space public amenity?
14. Did the government ever imply or threaten to not construct a GovHub in Greater Bendigo if council did not sell the site or co-locate?
15. Modern technology leads us to believe that within the next ten years the best one-stop shop for efficient services for customers will be mobile devices, and for staff mobile devices and working from home. How does council’s huge financial commitment to the concept of co-location into the GovHub sit within that reality?
16. What future community focussed major projects will be lost or downsized to find monies if Council commits to a co-location GovHub?
17. Explain why the site was not placed on the open market, and the private sector (within planning guidelines) construct commercial facilities suitable for the CBD that would create additional jobs in central Bendigo and bring more people into the city centre on a daily basis. This would enhance the economy and vibrancy of the CBD and surrounding businesses. Then council using the larger sale proceeds could then have gone ahead with the private sector to construct a council complex on other more publicly accessible council land. The Council retains ownership of the land and enters into an agreement with the private sector over the building, with the asset reverting to Council in 40 years (similar to a BOOT model – Build, Own, Operate and Transfer).
18. Read through the 20 February officer report again and unjumble the presentation of the seven options, then present them so that informed comparisons can be made between 400 and 440 desk alternatives.
The refurbishment and renovation assessments are unfathomable.
a) Why, when the government made it clear in May 2017 that only 400 council desk spaces would be provided in the GovHub, that all council modelling during the analysis phase up until 20February 2019 was being based on a 440- desk allocation for the City.
b) Why, only after the PWC report and when in preparing the February officer report for Council did the CEO indicate a review of work practices and technology would support this reduced number of desks [400 as the government planned] and still cater for a growth component.
c) Why the 20 February 2019 officer report fails to indicate if the work practices and technology applied to option 1 was also applied to the other six options.
d) Was the number of desks reduced to 400 for the other six options when finally assessing and comparing them with option 1.
19. Explain the retained capital value of the site and building to be owned and controlled by Council for the options 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, and what role and weight that played in your decision to not support any of those options, but to support option 1 which has no retained capital value.
Could you honestly stand before a packed public meeting, or an inquiry, and confidently respond in detail to each of these and other matters.
If you are unable to provide a full detailed explanation for any one of the questions/propositions above, or you do not have an answer, or only have a partial answer, then you have been either misled, or have not been previously provided with timely advice, or you do not have sufficient detail to now make an informed decision, then, in all conscience, you could not possibly vote to sell the land or proceed to endorse council co-location into a GovHub.
Greater knowledge of these, and the many other matters we have previously raised will hopefully lead you to fairly realise the significance of omitted information, limitations of council processes, the looseness of governance that surrounded council decisions by councillors both inside Council Meetings and outside those meetings, and the bias of the administration.
Breaches of the Local Government Act have occurred.
We (and others) are not unintelligent people, but try as we have, we cannot overcome the lack of detail and the presumptive decisions. The processes and information surrounding the entire project are tilted and murky at best; an incomprehensible mystery because of what is not in the public domain.
Based on the above, and other extensive evidence, it is not unreasonable to come to the conclusion that, despite the effort of councillors and the time elapsed, Council’s proposed sale of the council office sites in Lyttleton Terrace to the government for a GovHub construction, and the paying of rent for council’s consolidation and co-location of just 400 desks into that complex, is not in the best interests of the residents of Greater Bendigo.
There is no shame or loss of face in recognising that fact. If you collectively come to that conclusion then the government must respect that outcome. Work done to date can be utilised to seek better options
You are accountable to the residents of the City, not the senior officers, nor the Mayor, nor the government; it is residents’ services and facility, and the residents’ money.
We sense you may feel trapped by government, senior staff and your own councillor code of conduct. It’s never too late to call a public meeting to fill the gaps, or to understand residents’ attitude to this officer-government project and Council’s 20 February decision.
We, like most Bendigonians, will be keen to see how you as a councillor handle this important matter, and our assets and our future financial commitments.
We look forward to your individual response as a matter of urgency.