Residents, investors, real estate agents, building professionals and developers who wish to convert vacant Toowoomba CBD premises into vibrant living spaces now have a detailed design guide to help them realise their ambitions.

Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) this week (February 16) adopted the Toowoomba CBD Shop Top Living Design Guide at the February Ordinary Meeting of Council.

TRC Planning and Development Committee chair Cr Megan O’Hara Sullivan said the guide illustrated the process for property owners to create residential accommodation to support the future growth in inner city living across the Toowoomba CBD.

Cr O’Hara Sullivan said Council also decided to consider incentives that could be offered to encourage interested owners to consider Shop Top conversions.

“Council’s Temporary Toowoomba CBD Development Incentives Policy expires at June 30 this year and Council will investigate incorporating incentives for Shop Top living in any review of the existing policy,” Cr O’Hara Sullivan said.

Cr O’Hara Sullivan said the guide offered practical advice that outlined:
• The benefits of Shop Top Living,
• Identifying project scenarios (a step-by-step process),
• Regulations and compliance (including Council/Planning regulations and building regulations),
• Affordability and budget planning, and
• Marketing an end product (Real project case studies, advice on the return on investment)

Cr O’Hara Sullivan said Council was determined to encourage more people to consider the lifestyle advantages and associated with living in the Toowoomba CBD. (*area designated below)

“Adding to the CBD’s resident population generates a range of community and economic benefits across the day and night economies, in addition to attracting more visitors to a livelier precinct,” Cr O’Hara Sullivan said.

“There is an opportunity to create a more vibrant sense of place by reviving vacant and under-used spaces. Anecdotal evidence suggests vacancy rates above commercial premises in the CBD is around 40%, if not higher.

“Figures from the 2016 Census revealed there were 2300 residents (or 1.4% if the Region’s population) who lived in the City Centre Master Plan area.

“Creating new residential spaces above commercial properties supports housing diversity and choice, including opening up more affordable housing options.”

Cr O’Hara Sullivan said the illustrative design guide would demystify the process around transforming vacant properties.

“The guide illustrates the conversion process to step owners, developers, investors and other interested parties through the various stages, including associated compliance and regulation, project scenarios, costs and budgets, plus economic returns.

“The guide also details different project scenarios covering multiple dwellings across multiple floors.

“For instance, converting one residential unit on the upper floor of an existing commercial property is the most time and cost-effective option. It does not require planning approval or car parking provisions.

“Other development scenarios can be more complex, time and resource intensive. However, such a proposal could have commercial and economic returns that make it a viable proposition depending on people’s circumstances.

“Aspect Architects and Project Managers designed the guide on council’s behalf through a competitive procurement process.”

TRC Planning and Development Committee portfolio leader Cr Bill Cahill said it was important to note that the Design Guide was not a new policy or a change to an existing policy.

“The Design Guide could be used to support future reviews of policy, regulation and compliance, which is also controlled by external agencies, not just local government,” Cr Cahill said.

“Facilitated workshops will be held to engage with relevant stakeholders (property owners, real estate agencies, professional firms) to promote the opportunity and to take them through the guide.

“The guide will help property owners and investors make more informed choices when they are considering options for re-purposing their properties.

“While inner city living is not for everyone, it could hold appeal to students, single and dual income couples and retirees.

“The access to employment, retail and professional services as well as a range of entertainment options (restaurants, bars, coffee shops), public transport and parks all serve to add richness to inner city living.

“More than $850 million has been spent in the Toowoomba CBD by private and public investment, including Council, over the past decade. Few regional centres can point to a similar level of capital investment. Council envisages ongoing private investment will make the CBD an even more attractive destination in coming years.”

The geographic area of the Toowoomba CBD and the Toowoomba Railway Parklands Priority Development Area is the locality covered by the Toowoomba City Centre Master Plan. The area is framed from the Toowoomba Hospital to Bridge Street and from West Street to Hume Street. The Toowoomba Railway Parklands Priority Development Area is bounded by Russell, Neil, Campbell, Ruthven/Ann, Bridge and Mort streets. This area was declared a Priority Development Area by the Queensland Government in December 2014.

*Property owners and prospective investors are advised to seek independent and qualified professional advice when considering a project.