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Public Space for Toowong Central

Revitalising Toowong

An enormous concrete expanse sits at the heart of Toowong. Formerly the site of Woolworths, the block of land known as Toowong Central sits derelict and unuseable, with multiple proposed developments failing to materialise. The few details that have emerged about the latest proposal suggest the developers aim to combine the former Woolies site with a neighbouring block on Jephson St for a massive, “upmarket” mixed-use development.

Local residents have been telling me for years that Toowong needs a community hub that delivers new green space, affordable housing and a council pool. Located next to Toowong Village, the train station, bus stops, shops, and local services, these central blocks of land would be the perfect place to deliver the amenities our community desperately needs - and if the Toowong-West End green bridge eventuates, it will be just a short stroll away. Instead, this enormous site with the potential to reshape the area sits in the hands of developers looking to make a profit from an upmarket project that will further drive up rents and property prices, and serve only the wealthy.

We can do better than this. So I’ve been making a racket to put pressure on the State Government to team up with Council and acquire the sites for a development that serves the whole community, not just a wealthy few. With your support, we could ensure that Toowong Central turns into the thriving community hub it should be. And if the comments from locals in response to this post are anything to go by, it had better include a local council pool.

You can sign Michaela Sargent’s local petition here, calling for the site to be preserved for community use, not private development.

You can read the letter I sent to the Premier, Housing Minister and Lord Mayor calling for the site to be acquired for the delivery of desperately needed public housing, green space and community facilities. 

In their response, the Housing Minister stated that the land was owned by a developer with intentions to develop it, and that the State had no legal or equitable interest in the land - evading entirely the State’s ability to compulsorily acquire land, or even the prospect of negotiating with the developer for a sale or imposing requirements that any proposed development include affordable housing.

The Council response was equally, if not more, lacklustre, relying on the outdated approval for Aviary, welcoming another luxury development, and refusing to relocate the local bus stop while the land sits empty.

With my limited speaking spots in Parliament, I’ve taken every opportunity I can to raise the issue: 

  • In September 2021, I suggested acquisition for an expanded urban common
  • In November 2023, I drew attention to the dodgy developer donations that plague the history of the site
  • And again in November 2023, I dedicated a speech to imagining a vibrant, community-focused future for the site.

If you’re keen to learn more about a community-focused vision for the site vs what we could expect from another private development, I’ve included more detailed information below.


The case for public housing.

Every Queenslander deserves access to a secure, sustainable, and affordable home, but this is becoming an increasingly unachievable basic right. Families across the state are sleeping rough or struggling to afford the roof above their heads. 

The waiting list for social housing has increased to nearly 50,000 people, and is only continuing to grow.  

Emergency housing services are underfunded and almost non-existent in some places. At least 33% of Queensland households are under housing stress, struggling to pay their rents or mortgages. 

Neighbourhood centres, domestic violence services and refugee support networks are struggling to meet demand, and lines for food banks are growing. 

Vacancy rates are below 1% in regions across Queensland. Rent and housing prices are at an all-time high and increasing at an alarming rate while wages stagnate - the lowest wage increases in 20 years. 

In saying that, Brisbane has roughly 87,000 homes sitting empty and developers continue to sit on empty blocks of land, driving up the price of housing. A genuine, sustainable solution to the housing crisis requires increased availability of affordable housing and an end to the treatment of housing as a sure investment, and not a basic human right. 

When considered as one combined block, the former Woolies and Jephson St sites would provide approximately 1.3 hectares of land in a prime location at the heart of the suburb. What is built here will reshape Toowong as we know it. It is essential we ensure that any development here works for our community, not just developers looking to make a profit selling upmarket apartments.

The Central Toowong site is resoundingly capable of providing for a public housing development that is liveable, accessible and community-oriented:

  1. It is physically connected to existing social infrastructure and employment opportunities
  2. It has the space available for any development to contribute to community, character and culture, and to ensure residents can be connected to green space and community amenities
  3. The community is advocating for it - indicating support and buy-in
  4. It’s a walkable neighbourhood with access to public and active transport options

The past proposed developments at both the Toowong Central and Jephson St sites have been publicly sold as ‘upmarket’ or ‘luxury’ apartment complexes, with no indication that any of the residences would be public or affordable housing. Instead of building densely packed apartments out of reach to most people, we could construct desperately needed public housing in this fantastic location and contribute to addressing our current housing crisis.

Green space and community facilities.

Join local, Michaela Sargent, in calling on Council to deliver a new park and community facilities at the site. 

Critically, this isn’t just some idealistic Greens proposition, the Council’s own planning instruments include provision for a distinctive and recognisable urban common at the existing bus turnaround, and a 3,000m2 public park on the former Woollies site. You can check out the Toowong-Auchenflower Neighbourhood Plan and the Local Government Infrastructure Plan, under public parks.


Background: the various developments

Back in 2017, Council approved a development application for the site lodged by a subsidiary of Stockland for three 25 storey residential towers. That never eventuated and the approval lapsed. 

Next, the State Development Corporation (SDC) and White & Partner took over the site and proposed the Aviary - a ‘luxury’ development including a 25 storey residential tower, 4 storey theatre and 20 storey office tower. That development application was approved in late 2020 by the LNP Council, almost a year after a company connected with SDC made $6,000 in donations to the LNP

At the time, I drew attention to the lack of community consultation and carried out my own community survey. The survey showed that locals were concerned about the lack of open green space and the rate of development in Toowong. The area has seen a proliferation of apartment complexes in a short period of time, yet no corresponding improvements in green space and upgrades to transport infrastructure have emerged to keep up with the growth in population.

In late 2022, the site was bulldozed and a busy bus stop on High St was frustratingly relocated 150m up the hill on High St to make way for the approved Aviary development. After radio silence from the developers and seemingly no action on the site for months, it was announced in June 2023 that the Aviary development had been cancelled. 

In the wake of that, we learned that the site had been sold to IJ Capital, who retained the services of SDC as their development manager. New plans have now been floated for an even bigger, upmarket residential development featuring a high-end restaurant precinct and four levels of retail and commerce space. 

The company is yet to lodge a development application for the proposal, but they are apparently teaming up with the owners of the neighbouring property at 80-88 Jephson St. This block borders Toowong Central, and has a separate development application lodged for two 25 storey high-density residential towers. The status of this project is uncertain. I’ve written to Council flagging my concerns about the application as it stands, but the application may be immaterial if IJ Capital submits a new development application for the combined sites.

In any case, the future of Toowong Central remains up in the air and locals have no certainty about what might materialise at the heart of their community.