New proposals have emerged for a 103-home build-to-rent scheme adjacent to the Station Hill development on Friar Street. The developer, Shaviram Group, held an online consultation and has published materials online where you can provide your feedback. Here’s what I picked up on this latest residential plan for Reading town centre.
The story was picked up by Berkshire Live earlier in the week, and gathered nearly 600 comments on Facebook – more than any local news story for months. The most common sentiment was disappointment at the loss of Cosmo. The next most common theme was, presumably from those who read the article, disappointment that Cosmo would be returning. Whilst the planners and councillors debate bat boxes, bin storage and being carbon neutral, it appears the Reading public is mostly interested in whether this development is Cosmo neutral.
The architect’s CGIs show Cosmo’s brand appearing on the redeveloped scheme. I asked whether this was the case at the consultation Zoom meeting and it was confirmed that they’d return. I didn’t admit that I’d searched online and found the marketing materials for when the site was sold in 2015. Those particulars reveal that Cosmo actually has a 999-year lease on its unit. Not only that, but it has a redevelopment clause whereby the landlord must pay £250k to kick them out, and must re-provide its accommodation within the redevelopment, along with a further £250k to welcome them back in. It would appear that far from being at risk, the restaurant chain is planning to occupy this site for the long term. Basically, Cosmo is forever.
At the online presentation, the architect explained many aspects of their design approach. I always like listening to architects – they have implausibly colourful ways to describe their work and its intended impact on the senses and soul of its recipient. But it’s so obvious they really wish they were narrating Grand Designs rather than talking to half-a-dozen people on Zoom on a Thursday evening.
In fairness, this plan did seem very well thought through. The height along Friar Street is in line with the new Station Hill, which in turn is about the height of the old Friar’s Walk (C&A) building. A higher section is set back 20m so as not to be visible from Friar Street. There is access from Merchant’s Place into a basement, for deliveries and cycle storage etc, which allows most of the ground floor to be dedicated to their Cosmo commitments. Three small shops, or “retail incubators” as they prefer to call them, will line the new open-street Friar’s Walk pedestrian link through Station Hill to the railway station.
The council will be pleased that the developer will fully comply with the 30% affordable homes target, which will be provided as reduced rental properties. There are roof gardens on the first floor (Cosmo’s roof) and then at the 7th floor, with access available to all tenants. At ground floor, the new shops and residential entrances are set back two metres under a new colonnade for shelter. The developer would be working with Station Hill around the landscaping for the open Friar’s Walk route.
Overall, I felt these designs have achieved a good solution to the transition from Friar Street into the new tall building area of Station Hill. It should help cover up the blank face of the Station Hill “Plot F” building under construction, for which the design now makes more sense. The derelict upper floors of Cosmo have become an eyesore, and people knowledgable on these things have confirmed the older building on the very corner that will be lost had already been heavily modified. I’d imagine these plans should make fairly swift progress. The developer also owns the Nando’s building a few doors down – whether they are also protected for all eternity like Cosmo who knows? But the flavour of the month is certainly all-you-can-build flats, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that site come forward soon too. As always in Reading, watch this space…