Have your say on Hosier St Plans

I think residents underestimate the influence they have on the development of our town.  One small decision locally stood out for me over the summer: the refusal of flood lights for existing tennis courts in suburban Reading.  Whilst the main reason for refusal was linked to the light directly, the documentation reveals local complaints related to noise were also upheld:

noise
Planning appeal outcome on floodlights for existing suburban tennis courts in Reading

“Youthful high spirits!” Look, I’ve nothing to suggest the correct laws and processes weren’t applied.  Maybe those laws should be reviewed, but my main point here is that we need people to be more community-spirited than the folk at number 23.  Wouldn’t it be great if people directed their energy and influence to making exciting new things happen, rather than constantly protesting against the endeavours of others?  As it happens, this week – Wednesday 5th September – you have a chance (actually a second chance) to do exactly that.  The council is consulting on initials ideas for the regeneration of a swathe of central Reading, including Hosier St, the former civic centre site, and the police station.  I went to the first consultation earlier in the summer. 

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As you might expect, given the way I’ve introduced this piece, there were a few grumblers at the event.  There was the usual dissent around proposals for flats: there are too many, they’re too small, they’re too expensive, they’re too tall, they’re fundamentally wrong, but the underlying truthful complaint is that for a small number of nearby residents their properties may briefly fall into a new building’s penumbra shortly after sunrise for a week each year.  The proposals are very significant for the future of the town, and there is room for improvement, but we need some more constructive criticism than the above.

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There are some good ideas in the initial plans.  Firstly, they’ve broadened the scope to offer a vision for a wider area to include sprucing up all the streets adjoining the Broad St Mall, and the area surrounding St Mary’s Minster.  Secondly, they’ve included a public square in front of the Hexagon, and thirdly, and potentially most importantly, they’re thinking ahead by covering the wider area even though the timescales for when the different plots come up for redevelopment might differ.

However, I would like to see more ambition in the plans.  When this area was developed fifty years ago, it included a shopping mall, civic centre, courts, a police station and a theatre.  A consultation back then (if they happened) would have focussed on discussing new facilities needed to support, entertain and administrate a growing town.  This time around, it’s not that much of an exaggeration to say we’re being asked what shape of flats we’d like.

My main complaint is the tiny amount of space at ground floor (or podium level) devoted to retail or leisure.  There would probably be a couple of coffee shops along the edges of vast perimeter blocks of flats that hide away significant areas of precious town centre land as private gardens for their residents.  I understand the demand for housing, but to give up so much highly accessible central square footage is, in my view, a disappointingly tame surrender to market forces.  Only a small change could correct this… see the current land use plan below:

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Rather than having retail/leisure below the built-part of the apartments, why not allocate the full ground floor (podium) areas A & B, and place the private residential gardens above?  It’s quite typical to elevate the private gardens above ground floor level – such an approach has just been approved at the Homebase/Toys R Us site, albeit much of that ground floor area will be residential car parking.  This idea would create opportunity for space-hungry facilities we currently lack… maybe ten-pin bowling, or an indoor/covered area for a much larger, better and more permanent market, or indoor golf, or snooker/pool, an ice rink, or even a larger supermarket with underground parking – at least that might tempt its shoppers to wander outside and spend some money at other outlets?

The specific use isn’t the crucial matter, the point is that we should be aiming to add some facilities that the town lacks.  For all the many small good ideas in these plans, it lacks a big idea.  This is council-owned land – they have an opportunity to accept marginally less than the commercially optimum outcome if by doing so they can cajole the right operators to come in and provide something interesting.  I note some quotes in The Oracle owner Hammerson’s half year results:

“Footfall levels declined in 2018, with a reduction of 1.6%, although… four of our centres reported increased footfall. The weakest performance was at The Oracle which… [was] impacted by recently opened competing schemes in Oxford and Bracknell.”

It’s good news to have vibrant towns and cities around the region, but Reading needs to respond to this competition.  We were overly exposed by concentrating so heavily on the provision of high street multiple retailers.  We have a chance here, with council-owned land, to provide housing but also some new high profile leisure/cultural offerings that will tempt people from the wider region to restore their occasional trip – ideally by bus or train – to central Reading (in addition to supporting their own local centres).  That’ll boost the footfall in the town centre as a whole, safeguarding existing retailers (and their jobs) whilst making further development of broader cultural and leisure facilities befitting of a regional centre viable.  The Abbey Ruins re-opening is great, the Gaol project would be incredible, but we could do so much more.

All that said, it’s a big positive, in my view, that this underused area is coming up for regeneration and that we have a chance to share our views.  The consultation event runs from 3pm to 7pm Wednesday 5th September 2018 in the Hexagon foyer.  Perhaps you’d like to call by and throw in some positive suggestions as to what you’d like to see in this prominent town centre location?  Doubtless the folk from “number 23” will be there trying to stop it entirely.  Let’s muster a noisy and high-spirited response.

If you can’t make it, here’s the link to all the materials and a form to feedback your thoughts directly to the council.  And of course, comments and discussion here is always nice – no registration required.

Have your say on Hosier St Plans

13 thoughts on “Have your say on Hosier St Plans

  1. Anonymous says:

    As usual, I entirely agree with you. Far too many NIMBYs in this country and red tape planning laws. The idea that we cant build proper facilities for children to play in because of “cumulative noise impacts” shows the sad, selfish state our society has become…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Anonymous says:

    To get ahead, we need to move ahead, and putting a bog standard development in would be barely to play catch up. Totally agree concept of your ideas, and appreciate your balanced constructive approach. We should not rush this, and we should be innovative. This is determining aspects of the town for next 50-100 years, so the decisions need to consider that far into the future. Not just about hitting arbitrary short term targets. A big responsibility.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Richard Stainthorp says:

    As usual an informed and thought provoking article. Do you know if you have any members of the Planning Application Committee reading these? If not may I suggest you either invite them to sign up or post it directly into their email boxes.

    Like

    1. Thanks Richard. Cllr Karen Rowland was at the first consultation event and was really keen to hear feedback and ideas, so I have sent a link to her. But mine is only one voice – I’m just trying to convince others to join in!

      Like

  4. Reading General says:

    I shall certainly go along and let them know i’m not against tall buildings, unlike the rest, but I will point to the paved wasteland around the Chatham Place tower to point out how it should’t be done and that the site as a simple through route should be considered carefully. The bridge across the IDR as shown on the map above is an enormous key to this space working, provided it is wide enough for pedestrians and cyclists to both enjoy, as this would provide a far more pleasant route to the Town centre than currently offered by the Oxford Road and Tilehurst Road/Castle Hill from West Reading. I will also mention that naming these walkways and buildings after the demolished streets that once occupied the site would be far nicer than naming them after developers or making something up like ‘Hexagon Place’ or ‘Reading something or other’ style naming that we have seen elsewhere around Town, particularly as some of these streets and passages had medieval origins. Naming the walkway between plots B/C and D ‘Grape Passage’ for example. On a side note, looking at the map of the Butt’s it shows the roadway narrowed here to accommodate more pedestrian space, I would advise against this as the council has made mistakes elsewhere in the Town centre by removing space available for public transport. As much as the council want a large pedestrian square somewhere in Town, access to any space suffers if you lessen the transport accommodation. I think the key in this town is to maintain and de-clutter the widest Town centre streets for smoother passage of transport and to tackle the ‘i’ll only be five minutes’ parking of cars that litter this area every day. On another transport side note (you knew I would fit it in somewhere) reintroducing Inbound buses from the Bath Road down Castle Street would have a large effect on footfall of the site as the opportunity to alight in Castle Street and walk across it becomes available, something which used to occur in the past.

    Cheers

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Richard Stainthorp says:

      Not sure if you are aware of the origins of the name Grape Passage. It used to be Grope Passage and before that Gropecunt Passage as it was a notorious place for assignations with prostitutes.

      Like

  5. Reading General says:

    Indeed it did. I do enjoy the medieval street names that just say what happens or comes from them and then the evolution of them to modern street names. Places like Shrewsbury fascinate me, although I appreciate that Reading isn’t like Shrewsbury, we still have our ancient street layout intact and it would be nice to keep it and reference it in future developments even if what used to happen there was a bit dubious. The same trade occurs where I live now less than a mile from Grape Passage.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great that you have publicised this event.

    People need to go to the event, understand what is proposed and give their views. This is the biggest scheme to hit town since the Oracle. No point in grumbling about it afterwards when people realise what is planned and it is too late to influence anything.

    As you say a big positive that the site is coming up for regeneration. People need to consider; is this scheme the right one, is it imaginative, is it the right concept, does it bring the right facilities into the town centre, is the housing too crammed and closed or is it ok, what have other towns done faced with similar challenges/ opportunities? What are the pros and cons?

    People need to go to the exhibition, talk to council officers and to understand it and comment.

    Richard Bennett Chair Reading Civic Society

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Brilliant post; your comparison to the probable high-level strategy of the ’50s is particularly insightful. We’ve swung too far from over-centralised planning in the ’70s and earlier to letting developers build whatever they want for a five-year return.

    “an indoor/covered area for a much larger, better and more permanent market” — couldn’t agree more. For some reason much of Britain doesn’t do markets properly while they’re wildly successful on the continent. If anyone thinks it can’t be done here for whatever reason, look at Abergavenny’s covered market. It’s brilliant.

    Additionally your suggestions probably are the commercially-optimal approach. Creating an aggregate increase in footfall across the town centre would generate additional business rates income, which (I think) can be wholly retained by local authorities, or at least that will be the case in a couple of years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. PS, yes also shame indeed on the residents of nos. 21 and 23. Heaven forbid children should have fun and exercise! The flood lights would only be used after dark (obviously), when local residents would have their double glazing shut. They wouldn’t have heard the kids.

      But that horse has bolted; I’m now writing my Hosier Street submission. I should be able to make the exhibition too.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. thanks Dan. Great points. Reading really deserves a better market! There was a Twitter thread initiated by EdibleReading about the Farmers’ Market that culminated in their agreement to discuss with the council moving it more centrally. That would be a good start, but I’d like to see a more permanent high quality market as well as better accommodation for less frequent events.

      Like

    3. I have been to Abergavenny’s Covered Market and agree that it is brilliant,maybe it could be actually placed over the IDR to bridge over the eyesore and cut down on the noise level. I also agree with Reading on Thames’s proposal to accomodate a large supermarket with parking on the ground floor-maybe this could be the new home for the Sainsburys on Friar Street? A bowling alley in the town centre would also be great but I don’t think it would be possible because of the business rates and rent.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. James says:

    Hi, good blog post and it’s very helpful to know this is happening, cheers

    Working in mental health and wellbeing, the built environment is one area which is crucial yet doesn’t get hardwired as much as is required through planning. Social isolation, loneliness and community coherence are real elephants in the room and councils, designers have an absolute responsibilittly to get this played in to developments, especially in the centre of town where commerce and leisure are going to be much more in balance…therefore;

    Community gardening spaces and space for creative projects
    Focus on Water and green space to offset the concrete jungle
    Urban gyms and making the new environment an “active space” rather than passive or “just a walk through”
    Visible hubs/community spaces/library of “things” (see healthy town Frome as example)
    Book sharing opportunities/dvd library
    Open air communal space (with a permanent awning to protect against elements….especially wind!)

    Like

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