The Broad Street Mall was purchased by new owners in May 2015. Since then we’ve heard nothing of their plans for the site. That is until this month when a planning application has been submitted to the council. Sadly the limit of the ambition, at this stage at least, is to re-brand the signs on each of the entrances to the mall. So let’s take this opportunity to give the new owners some ideas on how they could bring vast improvements to this part of Reading, and potentially make some money along the way.
Here is the Reading-On-Thames vision for the Broad Street Mall. The core premise is that Reading does not need two large indoor shopping malls. A comprehensive redevelopment of the 1971 scheme should comprise several distinct blocks separated by open streets and squares. The 1990’s pedestrianisation of central Reading has been a phenomenal success, and here is the opportunity to extend that further.
I suggest that the “town centre bus loop”, as it’s become known, could turn into Hosier Street from in front of the Minster church. Hosier Street could be extended through the Broad Street Mall site to join Oxford Road opposite Cheapside. Buses would use Cheapside to access Friar Street and the Station. That route, available in both directions, allows extensive further pedestrianisation: Oxford Road from Cheapside to Broad Street; West Street; and St Mary’s Butts from the Minster to Broad Street.
The new road through the development would provide bus stops and footfall to the heart of the scheme. A New Market Square would provide a home for the market, surrounded by ground floor retail and apartments above. To compensate the owners for providing a public street through their land, they would be given the small council-owned site south of Hosier Street that was once planned to house replacement civic offices. They would also be given some land to encroach on the now-pedestrianised stretches of Oxford Road and St Mary’s Butts.
The area in front of the Minster would become traffic-free, and restaurants would line the St Mary’s Butts boundary to the development, complementing those already found on the east side of the road and cementing this zone’s status as a thriving evening destination.
At the northern end of the scheme, the stretch of Oxford Road would now feel like an extension of the core Broad Street shopping area, but added vitality would come from a new public square, heeding calls from this blog to address this weakness in Reading. The new McIlroy’s Square would be lined up to face the centre of the frontage of the former McIlroy’s department store on Oxford Road, with shops and cafes lining its perimeter and fountains in the middle. Sunlight would be allowed to stream in over a low-rise pavilion unit separating the area from the market square to the south.
The layout also permits a phased delivery, with the Argos, New Look and Fountain House office block retained, together with a reconfigured car park, whilst the eastern half is demolished for the new road and new blocks.
Let’s hope new owners Moorgarth are thinking bold for their vision for Reading, by which I mean far more than a bold logo. An open-street development could provide upgraded retail, significantly enhanced leisure, new public squares and attractive streets. In addition, it could probably include upwards of 300 apartments, earning the developers a small fortune to boot. So come on Moorgarth, let’s get to work.Follow @readingonthames