SOUTH Gippsland Water’s (SGW) plans to move its head offices and depot away from Foster have been placed on effective hold until 2023.
Funding for the relocation and rebuild of the organisation’s headquarters has been deferred from SGW’s three-year price submission to 2023 to the Victorian Government’s Essential Services Commission.
A press statement from SGW dated Friday October 25, 2019 advised that “a number of projects [in SGW’s 2020 price submission] have been deferred to be completed in future years, notably, the Corporation’s Facilities Strategy.”
The statement continued that “the Facilities Strategy identified potentially relocating the Foster office, Korumburra office, and Wonthaggi depot to a more centralised location in order to provide a safe, efficient, accessible, and uplifting contemporary workspace to operate from.
“Funding to continue the Facilities Strategy in the immediate years has been deferred” and that “an allocation of $600,000 has been provided to continue investigation and design in 2022/23,” the statement said.
“In the interim, South Gippsland Water has allocated $800,000 to meet current workforce needs and to ensure occupational health and safety compliance, at the four existing sites.”
SGW managing director Philippe du Plessis commented that, “the Corporation focus of working towards the best long term operating model for our staff and customers will remain.
“Key safety, efficiency and amenity improvements will continue as we remain committed to an uplift in facility standards, although various, more permanent changes, have been put on hold,” he said.
SGW’s statement explained that “the Corporation’s three-year plan documents the level of service South Gippsland Water delivers, and prices charged to customers.
“A draft of the 2020 Price Submission was presented to the community at a session held in Leongatha on Wednesday night [October 23, 2019].
“Programs included in the Price Submission align with customer expectations to maintain water and wastewater levels of service and includes a Capital Program of $41 million and an Operational Program of $62 million over the three-year period,” the statement said.
“Projects [in the submission] are prioritised to support key drivers of maintaining services, upgrading water and waste water treatment plants, pumps and pipes and regional growth.
The statement added that “determining the allocation of project funding requires South Gippsland Water to prioritise projects based on meeting customer expectation to maintain services, ensure safe water and waste water services and planning for future growth.”
The statement also noted that “future major projects in the Price Submission include expansion works at Wonthaggi Wastewater Treatment Plant, sewer system augmentation at Inverloch, and renewal programs for service basins at six of the Corporation’s water treatment plants.”
FOSTER CHAMBER “OVERJOYED”
Foster Chamber of Commerce president Phil Rerden said chamber members were “overjoyed by the news that SGW has committed to retaining its HQ in Foster for the next three years.
“We believe this is a great outcome for the Corner Inlet community and for the ratepayers of SGW,” he said.
“We were contacted on Wednesday morning October 23, 2019 and were informed that SGW had taken the funding for their proposed relocation out of their pricing submission to the State Government.
“This means that the status quo will remain and the headquarters of SGW will be staying on in Foster at least until 2023 and the Water Board’s next pricing submission to the government,” Mr Rerden said.
“This also means that the 50 SGW staff based at Foster will be staying at Foster for now.
“We have been extremely humbled by the support given by thousands of people via the petitions to the State Parliament and the letters written to the Victorian Minister for Water.
“The support from our local members, especially [Gippsland South MLA] Danny O’Brien, and also [Eastern Victoria MLC] Melina Bath, and our local media, too, has also been much appreciated.
“As chamber president I would like to thank all of the local traders who put time and effort in with the petition, letters to the Minister and turning out for media pictures; I’m sure it helped with the positive outcome for Foster, the Corner Inlet area and the Water Board rate payers,” he said.
‘We can now look forward to a significant period of economic viability and stability for the Foster community and the whole town can breathe a little bit easier for the time being.”
O’BRIEN HAILS SGW DECISION
Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien has hailed the decision of SGW to put off any plans to relocate its head office from Foster.
Mr O’Brien said the decision was a great win for people power and a credit to the people of Foster and the Corner Inlet area.
“Just last week in Parliament I tabled a further 600 signatures on petitions taking the tally to over 1600 people who have signed the petition against the proposed move from Foster,” Mr O’Brien said.
“It’s a great credit to the people of Corner Inlet and the Foster Chamber of Commerce, which saw the potential loss of fifty jobs in their town and rallied to oppose it.
“I’m pleased that we have had a win on this occasion, but I am conscious that it is somewhat of a stay of execution and SGW still has plans to review its office arrangements in three or four years’ time.”
Mr O’Brien said he and the community are willing to work with SGW to help address its internal accommodation challenges, but he remains opposed to any move of the corporate head office from Foster.
“I think there is time now for us to work with the government and SGW to do our best to accommodate their staff, but I still see no reason for any move out of Foster.
“I’ve always loved the fact that there is a state government agency headquarters in a small town such as Foster, and the 50 jobs that go with it are critical to the local economy,” he said.
“We need to get creative on how the corporation’s needs can be met without damaging a great little town in South Gippsland.”