There was a further opportunity today to see how the proposals are coming along for the redevelopment of the Homebase and Toys R Us sites. The firm behind the plans is London & Quadrant. They are a housing association, but do their own planning and construction, as well as developing for private sale (they presumably write and sing theme tunes too). They do certainly believe in community consultation. Having previously exhibited “concept” images in June, they’re back now with high-res CGIs and even a matchstick model. I reviewed the proposals then and the latest plans are essentially identical.
The plans will deliver 750 homes in the three perimeter blocks with private gardens above parking areas in the middle of each. A taller 19-storey apartment tower sits at one corner (opposite Decathlon). Of greater interest to non-residents will be the riverside square by the Kennet with a large two-floor restaurant unit proposed, as well as coffee shop and gym. Two roads passing through the development have been provisionally named Huntley Street and Palmer Street, drawing on the fact the site was once home to the biscuit factory. I’m slightly surprised we’ve not used these street names before, but a quick look on Google Maps seems to confirm they’re available.
The consultation event was held in the Town Hall, and was signed from the pavement outside (take note Lochailort Investments). It was well attended and the half-a-dozen or so representatives were kept busy talking to visitors. Listening to the conversations was interesting. I think the people of Reading are getting beyond simply moaning about tall buildings. Those with longer memories might recall the “Alto” proposals for a similar sized building in the early 2000’s that prompted uproar and protests with helium balloons elevated to the proposed height to whip up opposition. (I know Swan Heights was repelled but that was a somewhat ridiculous plan.) At this event, building heights didn’t seem to feature.
One thing that we’ve certainly not grown tired of worrying about is traffic and parking. There was some scepticism as to whether the 300 parking spaces was sufficient, potentially leading to clogging up other local roads. And whether it’s 300 or 400 cars coming and going daily from the site, there’s concern about the traffic impact on the gridlocked IDR. Doubtless the developer is pinning hopes on a largely pre-children demographic working in the town centre, or commuting out from the station. They might have a point, although weekend traffic in Reading is now almost as bad, and this is a lot of new people to get out and about, albeit offset by removing the shopping journeys to Toys R Us and the four people per week that are currently shopping at Homebase – I can’t be alone wondering how it’s survived so long. I could see a car club being useful at this development, and we’re already seeing this sort of thing running in Reading. And perhaps this will be an opportunity to get some serious developer funding to plough into the town’s cycling infrastructure.
The other topic I heard discussed, bizarrely enough, was whether time would be spent looking for Henry I’s remains under Homebase. I thought we’d found him under the prison car park? I think people are hoping we can repeat the story of Leicester – find your buried king then win the Premier League. The search for Henry I has certainly captured imaginations recently, with his story inspiring a play to be performed next month by the Reading Between the Lines Theatre Company. As I understand it, however, this site lies outside the Abbey footprint, so I suspect any archaeological intervention will only be a brief interlude in proceedings.
A full planning application is due to be submitted in January, and with Toys R Us already planning a replacement store in Whitley, activity could start on-site next year. The new visuals and exhibition boards are likely to find their way to the dedicated website in the coming days.
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