On reflection, this year has been a satisfying one in my role as Mayor, with years of visionary planning, lobbying and sheer hard work, resulting in some significant achievements for the Toowoomba Region. Our strong and diverse economy, coupled with a major infrastructure boom and strong business confidence is creating a palpable sense of prosperity across the region, with all eyes looking to the Toowoomba Region.
We are the envy of regional Australia and with good reason. With a GRP of $9.58 billion, the Toowoomba region is one of the most diverse economies in Australia. Our population statistics tell a story of steady and manageable growth, with 50,000 new residents expected to call our region home by 2035.
Our message that the region is ‘open for business’ has resonated around the world, with public and private infrastructure investments in the region totalling around $13 billion. Toowoomba’s economic role as a major regional city, agricultural hub, knowledge and research centre, and freight and logistics hub provides enormous strengths and competitive advantages. The future is bright.
This year, our bold ambition of becoming one of Australia’s major inland ports edged closer to becoming a reality, with the federal government committing to fully deliver the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project. Council has advocated strongly for this nation-building infrastructure project for many years and this announcement is a game changer for the region. Rail will provide a safe, efficient and sustainable solution for transporting our products within Australia and direct to Hong Kong and beyond through the privately-owned Wellcamp Airport.
The $1.6 billion Toowoomba Second Range Crossing (TSRC) progressed this year, with design of Mort Street and Boundary Street link roads completed. Like most residents in Toowoomba City, I am looking forward to seeing fewer trucks on James Street and the obvious benefits that will come from relieving the pressure on Toowoomba’s roads. A project of this scale creates a lot of work for Council and I congratulate our team on the work undertaken to integrate our local road network with the TSRC.
The opening of QIC’s $500 million redevelopment of Grand Central transformed the Toowoomba CBD and created a major retail destination for the region. Council capitalised on this development, by investing in a project to transform the northern entrance to the CBD. Our vision for Toowoomba City is taking shape, with our laneway culture creating an energetic vibe. Recent receipt of a Queensland Government Building Our Region Program grant will see further investment in the CBD next year, with plans on track (excuse the pun) to upgrade the historic Railway Goods Shed.
I am constantly impressed by the innovation and ingenuity of our local business owners, Chambers of Commerce, Progress Associations and not-for-profit groups. At Council, we recognise these organisations are best qualified to identify opportunities and find solutions for community. Given this, I was delighted to see the launch of our $5,000 Community Economic Development Grant Program this year and look forward to watching our regional communities prosper in the ensuing years.
Council recognises that every voice in our region is important and has provided various avenues for residents to have their say on projects, services and issues that affect them during the year. I have personally enjoyed listening to diverse opinions from the community and believe Council is doing a good job at encouraging people to provide feedback through various channels.
This year signalled a coming of age for the Carnival of Flowers, which was recognised as the best national major festival or event at the 2016 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards in Darwin. The national accolade was the latest award in a stellar run of industry success for the Carnival. As a long-term resident of the region, it is exciting to have watched the Carnival evolve from its rich traditions to become a vibrant showcase of the region’s wine, food and creative industries. Coming from a farming background, I am also continually impressed with the high standard of our world renowned floral displays and the dedication of our competition gardeners and Parks and Recreation Services staff in the lead up to the Carnival.
Toowoomba celebrated 25 years of friendship with our sister City, Takatsuki, in 2016. The anniversary was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the hundreds of exchanges, friendships, memories and stories our regions have shared. A Nihon Matsuri, translated to ‘Japan Festival’ was held in our Civic Centre to celebrate the milestone and I was also honoured to lead a delegation from Council to Japan earlier this year to strengthen relationships with the Takatsuki region. Student exchanges between our cities inject $2 million annually into the Toowoomba economy, so we welcomed an opportunity to visit schools and identified business opportunities through meetings with the Takatsuki Chamber of Commerce and delegates in Osaka, Kyoto, Kasugai and Ena City.
Unlocking links to a growing Asian market will present significant opportunities for businesses in the Toowoomba Region. Recognising this, Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Yuechneng District, a part of Shaoxing city during the year. The agreement outlines that the two parties will carry out exchanges and foster cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, science and technology, culture, tourism, education, sports and health to promote common prosperity and development.
Our region is booming, but there are people within our community who are homeless, marginalised and struggling with everyday life. Toowoomba is a very giving region and I am constantly humbled by the commitment of individuals and not-for-profits who are genuinely committed to finding solutions for our complex problems. Together we can make a difference.
Volunteers are the backbone of our region and their ongoing commitment enhances social cohesion and a sense of purpose within our community. This year, I was honoured to represent Council at numerous openings and events and thank those of you who work behind the scenes to make our region great. Attending sporting events, art exhibitions, country shows and Council-supported Australian Day and Anzac Day commemorations highlight to me the wonderful diversity within our community and the tireless work of individuals and committees who make our region so much richer.
With crisp, clean country air, red soil paddocks and easy access to parks and wildlife, we have ample opportunity to get back to nature and enjoy a wonderful standard of living. I am proud of the role Council played this year in contributing to our liveability, through the provision of clean and safe drinking water, efficient waste disposal and well planned and maintained infrastructure. Our well-resourced libraries, free park barbeques and kilometres of bikeways promote inclusion, accessibility and enhance community connections. Thank you to our dedicated 1,700 staff for your hard work in delivering these vital services to residents throughout our region.
My job would be very difficult without the continued support of my fellow Councillors and a capable and dedicated executive management team. Thanks for your passion, commitment and expertise.
Our future is looking bright, but our present is worth appreciating. I hope you enjoy reading about our achievements and challenges for the 2016/17 year. Our community outcomes reflect our Rich Traditions and Bold Ambitions and I truly believe this year is one in which we can look back and feel proud.
Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor