It took all my powers of self restraint not to entitle this post “Reading the future”, but that’s the gist – as 2016 gets underway, what might the year hold in store for the town? If a town could write itself some new year’s resolutions then I’d hope to see the following amongst them.
1) Simonds / Barclays bank on King Street brought back into use
It’s more than six years since Barclay’s left the 1839-built branch for a site on Broad Street. Criminally, the ornate Kings Street building has sat empty since. Originally owned and run by the locally-prominent Simonds family, Barclays inherited it through acquisition in 1913, and added an extension in the 1970’s that fronts High Street. Plans are now afoot to convert the ground floor into two restaurants, and the upper floors to apartments. This time next year I would hope that the new venues will be in business, and wouldn’t it be great if at least one went to an independent operator rather than a chain? Simonds Restaurant anyone?
Likelihood: Highly probable
2) Two passing motor vehicles simultaneously under Cow Lane bridges
The final phase of the Reading Station redevelopment will see the last narrow railway bridge of Cow Lane bypassed with a new wider bridge, with promise even of double-decker bus clearance. What’s not clear to me is whether there’s much, if any spare capacity at the Caversham Bridge / Richfield Avenue junction to accommodate additional traffic. We’ll probably just move the jams a few hundred yards from the railway bridges to the junctions either side. But outside of rush hour, journeys will undoubtedly become easier so this is a positive step. Whether we’ll start seeing bus routes appearing along Cow Lane will be interesting. If we do, expect some bus lanes to start springing up to evade those queues at the junctions.
Likelihood: Almost certain
3) Plans submitted for a redevelopment of the SSE site by the Thames.
Covered in more detail an earlier post, the new footbridge is designed to land into this site to provide a direct link from the Thames to the station. With Scottish and Southern (SSE) having announced plans to vacate the site and occupy a recently completed development on Forbury Road, there’s no reason why design work couldn’t be underway already on a redevelopment of the Thames-side plot. You would certainly expect to see some evidence of that in 2016 as the site becomes vacant.
4) Double demolition
The coming year should finally see the back of two very unloved local buildings. The long-vacant Kings Point, after many and various proposals has permission to be replaced with an apartment complex, and I’d expect to see work begin in 2016. Meanwhile, the council has confirmed that the asbestos-riddled former civic HQ will also be torn down. It’s less clear what will become of that site. I’d like to think the council’s chosen development partner, Kier, is in detailed discussions with the new Broad Street Mall owners on a co-ordinated scheme. What’s more likely is that they’re planning a supermarket with some flats on top. Either way, after the recent demolition of Western Tower on Station Hill, expect 2016 to see plenty more action for the wrecking balls and bulldozers.
5) Lots of love for The Biscuit Tin
The cleared area that was the Station Hill parade of shops is being converted into a ‘Temporary Event Space’ known as “The Biscuit Tin”. It will contain a wooden cafe/bar building with outdoor seating and planting. The hope is that this will become, for its 10-year lifespan until it becomes the final development plot of the Station Hill scheme, a real focal point for the town. Events could include exhibitions, gigs, markets etc. Firm plans haven’t been published, but at the very least I’d expect it to be a prominent part of Christmas 2016 in Reading, by which point the adjacent Thames Tower should also be relieved of its plastic shroud and the whole area should look considerably smarter.
Likelihood: Good chance
6) 3rd Bridge consensus
It’s all gone a little quiet on the 3rd Thames Bridge subject again. Local MP Rob Wilson had forced it onto the agenda, getting further than many other recent campaigns in that apparently “traffic modelling” is currently taking place to analyse the potential impact of such a scheme. Is it just possible then, that 2016 might see these results published and reveal the obvious conclusion that all parties would benefit from the new link between Thames Valley Park and Henley Road? Support from both sides of the river will be needed to get any proposals agreed and funded. Traditionally, it’s been a case of Reading pushing for the bridge and Oxfordshire strongly resisting. But ironically, more recently, strong support for the crossing is coming from Henley, which grinds to a halt whenever there’s a problem with any of the existing bridges, and also from elsewhere in South Oxfordshire, where significant numbers commute to Reading and suffer from the traffic as much as anyone. So perhaps there’s a consensus starting to form.
Likelihood: Maybe, just maybe…Follow @readingonthames