Why Toowoomba is Becoming a Thriving Regional Centre
While our capital cities have seen their fair share of growth, our regional cities have continued to provide the economic backbone behind a thriving Australia.
Image courtesy: Nexus Infrastructure; Toowoomba Second Range Crossing.
It is a common rhetoric echoed by many of our policy-makers and regional advocates, so let’s cast our eyes 125 kilometres west of Brisbane to the ambitious regional city of Toowoomba, to better understand what’s driving this growth.
Growing Queensland’s Economic Output
Known as the Garden City due to the annual carnival of flowers, Toowoomba is a vibrant regional hub for the well-known agriculture and mining based communities that make up the Surat Basin and Darling Downs. Home to approximately 166,000 residents, Toowoomba is the second largest inland city in Australia behind Canberra.
The city’s strengths are seen through its diversified offerings which include global connectivity, attractive house prices as well as strong freight and logistics, construction, health, education and retail sectors that complement agriculture and mining exports. Together, these sectors account for most of the city’s employment.
The local economy is also performing well. With an unemployment rate of 5.02 per cent as at June 2018i, it is below the rate for regional Queensland which currently sits at 6 per cent and below that again for the rest of Australia which is 5.4 per cent. The Gross Regional Product is valued at AUD10,474 million (June 2017) equating to an annual growth rate of 6.2 per cent, up from 4.3 per cent in 2016 and again considerably higher than the Queensland rate of 2.4 per cent for 2017.
Earlier this year, the Regional Australia Institute rated Toowoomba as an expanding city. The industry body projected Toowoomba’s compound annual growth rate at 3.5 per cent for the period 2013-2031. This is above the national average of 2.7 per cent, and higher than the region’s growth rate of 2.6 per cent for the period 2001-2013ii. It also gives Toowoomba the fourth highest growth rate projection of all regional Australian cities.
Creating a Promising Future
Through its 2010 City Masterplaniii, the then Toowoomba City Council set out to create a thriving place that is truly the heart of the region. Gerard Ryan, WSP’s Regional Director for Queensland says, “Toowoomba is a region that is benefitting from a strong vision. There is a coordinated effort from all levels of government which is helping to create a real sense of optimism and ambition with the locals. Buoyed by sustained levels of investment, we are seeing a flow on effect right through the economy.”
However, for arguments sake let’s look at the infrastructure projects that have led to the development of this thriving regional centre and how they are helping to create a first-class public realm and vibrant economic generator for Queensland.
Australia’s largest freight rail project, Inland Rail is a AUD10.4 billion freight and logistics network beginning in Melbourne and connecting regional centres including Toowoomba up to Brisbane over a 1,700 kilometre stretch. The project will reduce travel times between the two capitals to less than 24 hours and is set to unlock an estimated AUD16 billion to the national economy by 2050iv.
Client: Australian Rail Track Corporation
Toowoomba Second Range Crossing (TSRC)
Freight volumes from the Darling Downs region currently equates to over 2 million tonnes per annum and is set to double by 2030.
Beginning in 2015 the AUD1.6 billion TSRC was commissioned by the Australian and Queensland governments. Journeying 41 kilometres, the bypass highway will assist in managing increased traffic volumes. Set to facilitate an economic windfall of approximately AUD2.4 billion over a 30-year period, the project will divert freight out of the main CBD, therefore reducing travel times and noise pollution while at the same time improving the region’s road safety considerably. In addition, the project has also helped to create around 5,000 jobs for locals since its inception.
For a sneak peek into the TSRC from the Department of Transport and Main Roads, please click here.
Client: Department of Transport and Main Roads
Owned by the Wagner Corporation, the Wellcamp Airport opened back in 2014. Connecting Toowoomba to Australia and the rest of the world, the airport currently runs 80 weekly services via Qantas, Airnorth, Regional Express and it also operates a weekly cargo flight to Hong Kong via Cathay Pacific.
Further, as announced in September this year, Qantas will use the airport to setup a AUD35 million pilot training base. Due to open in mid-2019, the base is set to create up to 400 local jobs and will have the capacity to train 250 pilots per year with expansion plans in place. The base will come equipped with a new hangar, classroom facilities and student accommodation.v
Activating the area, the airport is also surrounded by the Wellcamp Business District which specialises in aviation, logistics, transport, corporate and mining services and is also the business hub for Toowoomba and regional Queensland.
Put simply, the significance of these projects means a connected Toowoomba. Guy Templeton, President & CEO of WSP recently appeared on Sky News for the Business Council of Australia’s Strong Australia series about Toowoomba specifically. He says, “Transport infrastructure is critical to the development of our regional centres. By connecting our regions to the greater economy, we are helping to drive local and international growth by opening the door to new mass markets not previously reached.
Mr Ryan adds, “For example, the agriculture sector in South West Queensland was given a major boost through the announcement of the Cathay Pacific cargo service back in 2016. Our farmers can now have their high value produce loaded onto the future Inland Rail or couriered via the TSRC and have them exported to the mass market in Asia the following day via the Wellcamp Airport. These projects are certainly region if not nation building.”
And There’s More…
The AUD500 million Grand Central shopping centre redevelopment opened in 2017. The expansion project doubled the size of the shopping centre and added another 160 retailers and supports an extra 1,000 local retail and hospitality jobs on top of the 1,500 jobs created during construction.vi
The Central Highfields Master Planvii provides a growth area near Toowoomba for an additional 10,000 residents by 2031. It will provide a blueprint that covers additional demand for housing, retail and commercial spaces.
Toowoomba joining up to the Global Smart Cities Network.
The local council has also budgeted AUD175 million for additional capital works programs for 2018.
Image Credit: adnic.com.au - Grand Central Shopping Centre; WSP provided mechanical, electrical, Fire Protection, Fire Engineering, Hydraulics, Vertical Transportation, Sustainability, Acoustics and Specialist Lighting services.
What’s Next for this Thriving Region?
Mr Ryan believes that Toowoomba is setting a benchmark for other regional communities to follow.
He says, “Toowoomba is benefiting from smart investment decisions and a shared vision for its future. The public and private sectors have worked together to create a thriving hub that has the services needed to facilitate economic growth and enhanced productivity in South West Queensland. The university is a world class education provider; the healthcare sector is the number one employer for the city and with the addition of these major transport, retail and housing infrastructure projects, Toowoomba is now more connected than ever before.”
If these transport projects are bringing communities closer, the Grand Central Shopping Precinct and the Central Highfields Masterplan will only compliment the investment. These projects will activate the precincts through green spaces, public amenities including restaurants, bars and commercial offerings ready to compliment an already well-diversified economy whose strengths in health and education enhance the city’s reputation for affordability and an enviable lifestyle. Together these factors will keep attracting people to Toowoomba for generations to come.
Overall, these projects have been great catalysts to driving up employment and are examples of how to create a first-class public realm. They acknowledge the three main principles in creating a precinct – that is a place where people want to live, work and play.
Mr Ryan concludes, “With so much growth anticipated over the next 10-20 years and with the conclusion of these big-ticket projects nearing, it is a truly exciting time for Toowoomba.”
What if we can help other regional centres across Queensland and the rest of Australia follow the lead set by Toowoomba?
To find out how other regional cities are creating thriving hubs, please click here.
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iiDeals, I. (2018). Investing in national growth – regional City Deals - Regional Australia Institute. [online] Regional Australia Institute. Available at: http://www.regionalaustralia.org.au/home/2017/06/investing-national-growth-regional-city-deals/ [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
iiiToowoomba Region. (2018). City Centre Master Plan. [online] Available at: http://www.tr.qld.gov.au/about-council/council-governance/plans-strategy-reports/10958-city-centre-master-plan [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
ivMcCormack, M. (2018). Key Queensland Inland Rail section declared Coordinated Project. [online] Minister for Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities. Available at: https://minister.infrastructure.gov.au/mccormack/releases/2018/march/mm010_2018.aspx [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
vToowoomba Wellcamp Airport. (2018). Wellcamp Airport and Business Park | Queensland, Surat Basin, Toowoomba, Darling Downs. [online] Available at: https://www.wellcamp.com.au/ [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
viStatements.qld.gov.au. (2018). $500M Grand Central redevelopment enters final stages. [online] Available at: http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/9/18/500m-grand-central-redevelopment-enters-final-stages [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
vii Central Highfields Masterplan. (2018). Toowoomba: Toowoomba City Council.