MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire is opening a “satellite” office for its planners in central Melbourne.
Councillors last week approved spending up to $60,000 to rent an office in the city for 12 months.
They have called for a report on the “positives and negatives” after the office has been operating for nine months.
Planning services executive manager David Bergin said the chance of working at a city location would enable the shire to retain “high performing staff”.
“A number of staff resignations last year have identified a concern with distance from home, social life and family,” Mr Bergin said in a report to council’s Tuesday 27 March meeting.
He said savings on travelling time, which he “conservatively estimated” at $28,000, would offset the costs of the office.
Mr Bergin said planners were frequently required to attend at the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), training courses “and other meetings in the CBD”, including with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), the Environment Protection Authority, Municipal Association of Victoria and Melbourne Water.
He said travelling back to Mornington from Melbourne could take up to one hour and 45 minutes, which was costly when a planner was paid $43-$76 an hour, a senior planner $53-$79, a principal planner $58-$91 and a team leader $70-$105.
The staff that Mr Bergin said would be less likely to resign came from Melbourne’s middle to inner suburbs.
“These staff members can become highly valued in the team, however, the peninsula’s tyranny of distance can ultimately take its toll,” he said.
“The provision of improved customer service for the more than 28,000 absentee house owners, many of whom work or live closer to the CBD will have the opportunity to attend planning related meetings during lunch breaks or at a more convenient time without the need to add more travel time to Mornington.
“In addition to our ratepayers, many of the larger planning consulting firms and architects are based in and close to the CBD, which will make us more accessible to meet and discuss planning matters.”
Mr Bergin said the office would have six to eight desks, allowing three to four staff to be there “on a rotating basis”. Staff using the city office would also be required a set number of days a week at the Mornington office.
“An attendance chart will be developed to ensure that both staff and leaders are rotated through the office in a functional method.”
CEO Carl Cowie, in a news release, said the Melbourne office would “improve efficiency and customer service for the shire’s planning services department [and] … improve productivity and flexibility for staff while improving our overall planning services”.
“The satellite office will allow our planning services team to use their time more effectively, spending more time working for our community, and less time travelling between the peninsula and the CBD,” Mr Cowie said.
“It will also improve our customer service by providing better accessibility to a quarter of our home owners who live and work in and around Melbourne.
“We are here for the community – we want to help our residents with their planning needs as efficiently and effectively as possible. This office will allow our ratepayers to visit us in the CBD to chat and get the advice they need quicker.”
Mr Cowie told The News on 31 August 2017 that “there is nothing to report regarding a shire office in central Melbourne” (“Shire planning to lease city office” The News 19/9/17).
But one day later (1 September), in his regular Friday email to shire staff Weekly Message, Mr Cowie described sitting in an Uber “waiting to get on the Monash [Freeway]” on his way to a meeting in the Melbourne CBD with “the exec team”.
Exactly one week before (25 August) Mr Cowie’s email to staff said “we have received some pricing for what could be a good first site for a shire planning presence in the CBD”.
“I will be inviting several key officers for a look at the office space on Friday 1 September.”