The Cairns Regional Council hopes that "tropical urbanism" will help to better accommodate a rapidly expanding population and reduce the need for suburban sprawl.

The Queensland tourism hub of Cairns has unveiled proposed amendments planning regulations that could dramatically raise building heights throughout the region, as part of efforts to foster more higher-density living throughout the region.

The Cairns Regional Council’s new Draft Planning Scheme includes several changes to building dimension restrictions, chief amongst them lifting of the height limit in the CBD from 46 metres to 80 metres, for an increase of more than 40 per cent.

In North Cairns the building height provisions could be more than doubled, rising from 14 metres at present to between 25 to 46 metres.

According to Cairns Mayor Bob Manning, while the changes did not mean that Cairns would necessarily become a “metropolis rising out of the mangroves,” they did take into account the need to better accommodate the city’s fast expanding population, which is expected to hit 400,000 by mid-century.

“We’ve come to a fork in the road,” said Manning. “Either expand the suburban sprawl or condense.”

The Cairns branch of the Urban Development Institute of Australia has hailed the proposed changes, calling them positive steps for shoring up economic growth and employment in the region, as well as ensuring sound urban design.

According to the council the proposed changes have the goal of incorporating “tropical urbanism” into the city centre, which it describes as the integration of landscaping and tropical design elements into the built environment.

The tropical urbanism design controls will seek to create a more variegated skyline, by permitting the creation of buildings in a greater variety of heights and dimensions.

“A variety of building designs will create visual interest, lush landscaping will achieve a sense of green space, and buildings will be sited so as to maintain vistas to the Esplanade, oceans and mountains,” said the council.

Key aspects of the tropical urbanism that the council hopes to bring to the Cairns city centre include provision of sufficient shelter from sun and rain, contrasting levels of light and shade, as well as sufficient space between and around buildings.

Other features include the minimisation of heat island effects so common to urban environments, high quality landscaping, and passive design features that are more responsive to the tropical climate of Australia’s far north.