There are several things our city’s key leaders can agree on about our future: Townsville’s CBD needs to be reactivated, the stadium is great but it’s just the start, Ross Creek has huge potential and confidence has slowly started to creep back in to the industry. Yet here’s the kicker: all these things are inter-connected and will be the catalysts that move our city forward. To find out what our city could really look like in five to ten years, we spoke to those directly connected to improving it. Here you’ll find eyebrow-raising truths, innovative solutions and key ideas we can implement now to create the promising city that we know Townsville can be.
Pat Brady, Executive Director of Premise, has spent most of his engineering career in Townsville. He knows what Townsville once was and what it needs to do to move forward.
“Townsville is really at that crossroads point,” Pat says. “When a city gets to 200,000 people, it needs to start thinking differently. It’s not the small town of 50 years ago and I think we have to understand that.”
Unlike other regions, Pat says we have the blessing of a series of pillars. Pillar such as tourism, defence, mining, education, health, the port and agriculture which we can rely on. Our next challenge, he says, is clarifying our message, redefining Townsville’s CBD and making sure we get it right.
However, he echoes a thought we hear all too often: we can’t pass the buck, rely on public and government funding and over plan to the point of missing opportunities like we’ve done in the past.
“We have to be careful that we don’t just expect things and there’s been a bit of that in the past, so we have to change,” Pat says mindfully. “For the private sector to invest we need certainty of development opportunity, water security and power security – all of which we’re doing something about. If we can just resolve a few things we’ll see change and investment, but the confidence is definitely there.”
When it comes to our future, Pat says it’s all about attracting people in unique ways, which will promote growth and density. One idea ties in with JCU’s Health Sciences.
“There’s an opportunity for us to turn it into an educational tourism opportunity and bring it into the CBD. You can create that connection with AIMS, GBRMPA and the aquariums, which could put the pin in the map for Townsville,” he says, noting that another untapped source is cruise ships.
“People getting on and off ships in Townsville? That’s a big chance for the whole industry. People will stay a couple days either side of it filling hotels and if we give them the right experience they’ll come back again and again,” he says. “The future is about people in the CBD. That’s not people who come in at eight, leave at five, they need to be there 24 hours a day.”
It’s not just these ideas that make the business community though, with several big projects building confidence in the industry.
“The big projects that are probably the game changers would be Adani, the battery project if it comes off and expansion for Sun Metals. That’s a big investment from an international company,” Pat says. “I’m also excited about the fact that we’re talking about building dams, power stations and irrigation projects again because they are complete game changers for the whole region. If we build dams, we have that follow on period where people are growing produce, putting it on boats and making money from other parts of the world.”
From there, it will be up to innovating the spaces we live in. This is where Craig McClintock from McClintock Engineering Group excels.
When it comes to innovation and energy efficiency in the engineering space, McClintock Engineering Group have the niche covered. They have given life to several noteworthy projects which Director, Craig McClintock, says could be adapted to improve Townsville businesses.
“We’re currently designing two district cooling systems with thermal energy storage tanks and a large scale solar system which will be the largest interconnection system in Australia of this type,” Craig says. “It is possible that one of these sites will become energy neutral.”
An energy efficient or even neutral solution could drastically change Townsville businesses both in and out of the CBD, so how does it work?
“Buildings will no longer have air-conditioning plants inside. It’s all reticulated as underground chilled water,” Craig says. “That reduces energy consumption and allows you to move energy between buildings and precincts to better utilise power infrastructure, meaning operating costs for all businesses would reduce, making Townsville’s CBD more competitive in a global market. One of the jobs we’re doing is seeing energy savings of 65%.”
Craig hopes the next five to ten years will bring high-rise buildings with mixed uses, an integration between Ross River and the CBD, more interactive energy hubs and extra hotel and short stay investment. However, he notes that there’s still room for more projects in the CBD that could improve Townsville’s future.
“I’d like to see more education facilities mixed with R&D, a defined cultural and street food precinct to provide bookend points of interest and interaction from CBD to North Ward waterfront via a covered walkway. Psychology and master planning could also be used to create ‘the sticky factor’ to bring and retain repeat visits,” Craig says.
Craig agrees that Townsville is “poised for some great opportunities” but notes that we need to get our fundamentals right to see the best results.
“We need to involve architects, town planners and engineers in the city plan and allow architects to create new buildings with ‘green’ canopies over road reserves to provide footpath shading as part of the integrated city plan,” Craig says. “This should create interest, shade and enable people to move around out of the sun in reasonable comfort.”
Why is this important? Well, as many of our key leaders have pointed out, “foot traffic breathes investment”.
“There is no place in Townsville where continued foot traffic occurs. The challenge is developing the CBD to encourage foot traffic to stimulate investment,” Craig says. “Innovation and technology will follow when developers need to compete for market share and presence.”
Craig says Townsville is perfectly positioned to take advantage of a direct data and telecommunication cable to other countries, which could supply half the state if implemented. There are currently limited cables that feed out of Australia, so it could be a game changer for Townsville.
“This would give us direct access to the wider network,” Craig says. “Then data storage, data acquisition, R&D, software programming, all that could be done out of Townsville because we have much faster access to the net. If we have that direct access into the wider network, or even if we have locality, half the state could be fed from Townsville and the other half could be fed from Brisbane. It opens up more opportunities, but it would need involvement at state, local or even federal levels to bring it in.”
There will be no quick fix to improving Townsville’s economy in the next ten years. Innovative solutions like these may require more legwork in the short-term but will provide several long-term benefits for our children and young entrepreneurs.
Two other leaders pushing innovation in Townsville are Zammi Rowan and Mark Kennedy from Counterpoint – a forward-thinking merger that hopes to put Townsville on the world stage for design.
When it comes to tropical design, Zammi Rohan and Mark Kennedy from Counterpoint – a merger between 9point9 and Outcrop Architects – have it down pat. Like Craig McClintock, they believe that renewables are a huge part of our future but they don’t want to stop there, saying tropical designs could put Townsville on the world stage.
“A huge opportunity for Townsville is to become a true international leader in design for the tropics. Our recent push towards producing renewable energy is a great start,” Zammi says, adding that companies are now “future proofing” their designs so they can upgrade as technology does.
Like many industry trailblazers, Mark and Zammi are passionate about urban design and activating the city. However, they say Townsville is facing a catch 22 situation.
“There are people taking steps to bring the city to life in both public and private sectors which is great,” says Zammi. “However, despite efforts to create these pockets of development across our city, there is often a lack of diversity in these precincts to draw people in and provide constant activation.”
Zammi says a solution for this could be moving away from “single destination” spaces and incorporating more innovative hubs to attract people both in and outside business hours.
“We need to have foresight and encourage changes in the way people use buildings, how people engage with them and understand what keeps them there. Providing a range of experiences and offerings will create more vibrant precincts. Connectivity between destinations is also really important for providing flowing, cohesive experiences.” says Zammi, adding that shared workshops, pop-up retail food and event venues, public art, parks and other foot-traffic creators are needed to enliven the city.
“We can build landmark buildings and scatter them around. However, if the parts in between aren’t working, drawing people in or providing opportunities for people to experience and engage with the city then it all falls apart, and that’s an issue that we have. It’s great to have a grand vision for 20 or 30 years but if we’re not setting bite-size pieces that we can work towards in the short term, it’s going to be difficult to progress.”
It’s a very real truth and one that will resonate with key leaders and community members all over Townsville. However, it’s not all bad news, with Mark saying there has been a positive shift in our city.
“In the last year we’ve really noticed a big change of mentality. So a lot of the negativity is disappearing, at our end of the spectrum at least. We’re seeing a lot of optimism in the development industry and we think there’s going to be some great change,” Mark says, adding that this change will bring positive projects for the city.
“What really excites us is buildings that contribute to the urban fabric on a larger scale. Obviously the stadium is a key project but we’ve also commenced work on the new SeaLink Tourism Project. It’s a really important project for the city, for locals and also crucial for people visiting,” Mark says. “I think Townsville has so much potential to grow and become a fantastic jewel in the crown for northern Australia. We just need to get that momentum and positivity going, which we’ve already started to see.”
Tuning in to the needs of our city is no easy task. Yet Zammi and Mark have taken it in their stride, gaining praise from other leaders in our city such as George Milford, who says they are doing “great things in the tropical design space”. George himself is no stranger to modern thinking, with a variety of key ideas that could get the cogs turning in our city.
Milford Planning have gone from strength to strength in their five years of business, successfully becoming one of the largest specialist planning consultancies in regional Queensland. This has allowed Milford Planning Director, George Milford, to take on several significant jobs and get an inside look at the needs of our city.
One of the most notable changes he says Townsville will see is the focus on new industry and commercial projects.
“Townsville will see a massive change in the next decade,” says George. “Whilst it’s important that people have places to live – and yes these do contribute to the economy – it’s not what drives jobs, growth or makes us more competitive. It’s about projects in agriculture, port and medicine, regardless of size, that keep us busy and hire people. If the people have jobs and they’re confident, they’re going to build, sub-divide, get units and find places to live. The focus needs to be on those little projects and making them viable.”
George builds on this by saying it’s also the small businesses that will future-proof our economy.
“I don’t think there will be – or should be – a sudden thing that employs 3,000 people and makes everyone happy. It’s too risky. We need a diverse base of small, different industries that are robust and can grow organically and independently of what else is happening in the world. It’s all the little 10-100 person employers that make us healthier.”
Another driver for jobs has been the Port Access Road.
“The port access road is essentially a connection between the port, all those western shires, mineral provinces and agricultural places. It makes sense that we should be competitive with the businesses that go there. After all, they’re making the most of Townsville’s geographic position,” says George. “It’s those things around the fringes that are going to get jobs and encourage people to live in the CBD or in the suburbs, all of which fundamentally drives the CBD and Townsville forward as a regional centre.”
When it comes to our other strengths, George says “we should capitalise on what The Strand means for our city and region in the same way we should capitalise on what our unique geographic location means to our economy.”
“It’s very significant recreational infrastructure that is attractive to locals and people from out of town or overseas so why wouldn’t you try and maximise the return and build upon the experience it offers? Some might be afraid that their view is going to get interrupted but it doesn’t need to be about buildings that are locked up for residents and owners. It should be about activation on the ground floor, density, tropical design and creating foot traffic. The Strand is a natural strength that is relevant to our future. We need to make the most of it,” he says.
George is also working on exciting technology that could help councils, governments and community members when it comes to the approval process.
“No one has written a scheme or town plan that is native electronically yet. Town plans and planning documents have become really difficult for the general lay-person to understand. So people have come to use town-planners to deal with tasks that should be an administrative ‘tick-the-box’ process. We’ve been trying to develop an electronic interface so someone can input their address, say what they want to do and have the criteria shown to them,” George says, adding that it would alleviate the strain on town planners.
“Every time someone rings or makes an enquiry about approvals, we spend about three hours identifying relevant approvals process and costs. If there’s 40 inquiries a month, that’s three weeks of work just to figure out how to get project approval. So you can see why it makes sense,” says George. He also notes that it will help regions that struggle to hire or get in-house planners.
These innovative solutions, suggestions and plans might be the start. However, it’s Townsville’s key leaders pushing for progress that will be the reason our city becomes a formidable name in the north. If we don’t do anything, it’s not just opportunities that will pass us by; it will be other cities and states. Townsville has far too much potential to let that happen, which is why it’s time to push for change.