The retail core of the Wollongong CBD has spread too far and a condensed precinct with a strong commercial sense will be needed to attract high-quality jobs, a draft strategy outlines.
The Wollongong City Council draft Retail and Business Centres Strategy recommends changes to land use to "tighten and focus the retail core" and for Council to deprioritise residential development in the commercial core.
The strategy, prepared by SGS Economics and Planning, also highlights the need for grocery stores within walkable distances of homes in new land release areas in West Dapto.
"The network of town and village centres in our established suburbs means that our community has reasonable access by walking to daily convenience needs from most areas. The western outskirts of suburbs south of Wollongong City Centre are an exception," the report outlines.
The strategy joins similar strategies for housing and industrial land, to determine whether Wollongong has the right balance between residential, commercial and industrial land in the region, Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said.
"The draft strategy is an important document for our city, now and in the future. It will help guide how we live, work, connect and shop."
While the final version of the strategy, which is now on public exhibition, will determine the future make up of Wollongong's 60 commercial precincts, from Helensburgh to Windang, the strategy highlights the Wollongong CBD and West Dapto as areas where improvements are needed.
In the case of the Wollongong CBD, the report notes that 'shop top' housing development in land zoned for business use has cannibalised employment lands in the CBD.
"Tokenistic ground floor retail/ business has also resulted in many locations remaining vacant, and the relative energy of the retail core weakened," the report outlines.
Business Illawarra executive director Adam Zarth said tight knit centres were important.
"We have maintained that it is preferable for business districts to be condensed in order to maintain vibrancy and navigability, rather than be encouraged to expand too greatly, geographically."
The report forecasts that if this is to continue, there would be conflict between the various needs in the Wollongong city centre.
"Conflicts and competition between residential and commercial land uses are evident, particularly within the Wollongong City Centre CBD. Much of the new development in the CBD has been mixed-use, which is not of preference to premium companies looking for high quality office space. There is a need to ensure the right floorspace is being delivered to create high value jobs for the community."
The report recommends separate mixed use and commercial precincts, rather than mixed use buildings.
This continues an ongoing debate over the make up of the Wollongong CBD.
In 2020, Wollongong councillors debated changes to the Wollongong CBD which would have reduced building heights in the CBD and separated residential and commercial zones.
A majority of councillors voted to delay any changes, awaiting strategies such as the draft Retail and Business Strategy now released.
Another key issue for Wollongong's retail and business centres is accessibility. The report notes that most Wollongong residents will be easily able to access a commercial centre within a 20 minute walk. The exception is south-western suburbs, and West Dapto in particular.
"Accessibility will remain poor for large areas [in West Dapto] even with the development of the planned centres, unless supermarket/grocery provision is supplied in the smaller village centres," the report's authors write.
The report recommends that commercial centres in West Dapto be encouraged, to ensure that residents of the planned and proposed areas do not have to drive into existing centres, such as in Dapto, to access daily essentials.
The report outlines a number of proposed changes to Wollongong's planning instruments, however Mr Zarth said there needed to be flexibility in any changes.
"Business Illawarra believes that adaptable planning instruments at a local and state government level will be key to allowing business centres to change with the times," he said.
"The benefits of this kind of regulatory adaptability were evident most recently in the rapid rise of outdoor dining that followed advocacy by Business Illawarra and its members, and a timely regulatory response by Council."
The strategy is open for feedback until December 2.