SECURING government COVID-19 recovery grants, improving access to public housing and revitalising the Seymour economy are among the top priorities for new Goulburn Regional Partnership chair Stuart Locke.

Mr Locke, who is the chief executive of bus company Seymour Passenger Services, was selected to head the regional partnership until the end of 2024, replacing outgoing chair David McKenzie.

The Goulburn Regional Partnership was established by the State Government in 2016 as one of nine regional partnerships across the state. The partnerships serve as advocacy groups that engage with their communities and present priority projects to the government.

Mr Locke said he was ‘honoured’ to lead the partnership for the next four years.

He said helping towns across the partnership – which spans the Mitchell, Moira, Murrindindi, Strathbogie and Shepparton local government areas – to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic was a key focus.

“Every man and his dog are leaving Melbourne whenever they can and, with the border sensitivities, people don’t want to cross the border so they’re spending their money within Victoria, which is an awesome thing,” he said.

“Do we need to try to attract those people? Once upon a time we did, but right now we don’t – they’re already coming. But we don’t have enough people on the floor to meet the need of the burgeoning visitation we’re getting.

“Some of the major retail and tourism outlets like … Trawool Estate or many of the pubs are struggling to find chefs, waitresses, bar staff and cleaners. What I’m seeing is that people are pinching and poaching from each other, which doesn’t really solve the problem.

“I see economic recovery as a major project, and I see the recruitment and retention of key staff as one of our great needs. We lost a lot of people during COVID and … that’s what I see as hurting the retail side of Victoria.”

Mr Locke said securing government funding to aid the region’s recovery was also vital.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time to take advantage of those initiatives,” he said.

“My fear is that while there may be a spike in funding during the next 12 to 18 months, there is going to be a long, cold winter coming some time in the next few years. You can’t continue to pay for all of this and not expect payback, so we’ve got to get the runs on the board now.”

Mr Locke said he had been working closely with Mitchell Shire Council chief executive Brett Luxford to secure funding for projects across the region.

“The key plank in the revitalisation initiative for Seymour is the health and community hub, which is a major centre primarily and strategically situated in the area of Seymour that most needs access to health, medical and social services,” he said.

“Council has bought the land and bulldozed the site, and all they need is to get funding to start turning the earth.

“Public housing is needed in Seymour, and the urban renewal of our townships is important.

“Mitchell Shire Council has been really pushing hard to get our industrial precinct out at Hilldene up and running to lure major heavy industry. I see that as a major project for our region, and [it would be excellent] if they can lure some waste-recovery industries or heavy rail to that site, or someone totally out of the box.

“The Kilmore bypass has not really been raised yet in our partnership, but a bypass is critical to Wallan and Kilmore.”

Other members joining Mr Locke on the partnership committee include deputy chair Amanda McCulloch, Paul Briggs, Peter Hall, Jamie Lea, Elaine Mallows, Brendan Mustica, Elizabeth Capp, Colleen Furlanetto and Sissy Hoskin.