This week it was revealed the council has secured £19.1M to progress with two highly significant projects. The Hexagon will gain a 200-seat studio theatre for performances and community use, along with a new accessible entrance foyer to the existing 950-seat main theatre. Meanwhile, the central library will relocate to a new extension of the council’s Bridge Street civic offices.
There was some reaction as to whether southern councils were really the intended target of this “levelling up” funding process. But Reading does not get much government help in general – dare I mention the Gaol, city status, or the impending reduction to one MP. Aside from the fact that these Reading projects will catalyse the wider Minster Quarter regeneration, Reading’s need for levelling up relates more to community and to culture, where most would accept facilities could improve. Reading is also evidently not very ‘level’ – the council states:
“Reading ranks as the third most unequal ‘city’ nationally in terms of wealth distribution (Centre for Cities). Five neighbourhoods in the town sit in the 10% most deprived in England and there is a difference in life expectancy of seven years for men and eight years for women, between the most affluent and most deprived areas of Reading.”
If these new facilities can achieve some kind of relevance in the lives of young people growing up in those neighbourhoods around town then surely nobody would begrudge our less-than-one-percent share of this national funding pot? And Andy Burnham still claimed the largest slice of the pie, proportionally to population, for his northern kingdoms.
As usual we have to go to LinkedIn to find out more about the proposals and who was involved. Clearly it’s a large cast, rather than being the work specifically of locally elected politicians. In fairness, I did message one councillor to congratulate them on the news and they were quick to divert the praise towards council staff. I’m not sure I’d have been so gracious as a councillor, given you have to take the blame when someone messes up the accounts.
We should expect rapid progress, as the rules of the game insist projects must be delivered by March 2025. Councils may have to line up builders in parallel with formalising their planning permissions. I do wonder whether Microsoft may take issue with the “HexBox” name. Thankfully I’ve heard the council already has a back-up name for the new theatrical venue: The Play Station. So that should be fine.
We don’t have much in the way of detail on the library relocation. The new building will be more accessible and practical being on fewer levels, more energy efficient, and also cheaper to run by virtue of consolidating two council-run sites onto one. RBC intends that the new facility should be a “flexible space for the whole community that embraces not only the traditional offer of book loans, but looks to the future with our digital and learning offer.” It certainly looks, superficially, like it could be a vast improvement on what we currently have, even if it’s likely to fall short of the fantastic modern “Forum” in Norwich which, in my experience, sets the standard. When our town is literally called Reading, it should be a given that we have a great library.
The remaining question is what might happen to the existing library site. The legacy Kings Road building could hardly be described as an architectural gem. Constructed in 1984, it’s perhaps a building that does not want to be loved so much as to be understood. Although my understanding is that it would likely be sold for redevelopment as part of making the sums add up on the new library. Interestingly, in other news this week, the planning applications for the Debenhams redevelopment were made public, and in amongst the reams of documentation submitted by Hammerson and its various consultants, is a 3D context sketch of the town. It painstaking re-creates Reading’s rooflines, yet the library has been mysteriously replaced by a block of flats. But anyway, that’s a topic for another post with plenty of CGIs on the Oracle’s scheme.
Well done to those involved in securing this funding. It’s great news for the town, and I’m sure both projects will make a massive difference. Let me know what you think…Follow @readingonthames
5 thoughts on “HexBox and library relocation plans win government funds”
[…] HexBox and library relocation plans win government funds […]
I wonder if HexBox means the end of South St? Can’t see there is room for two council-run studio theatres in the town centre.
I hope not. Nothing to suggest so but I see your point. Hopefully they can differentiate somehow
It’s good news overall, I agree. With that said, I have to confess I’m a little disappointed by the lack of ambition on the library plans.
Looking at the CGIs, the new space looks to be significantly smaller in floor area than the existing library – unless they’re relocating some of the council services on that side (the registrar, for what it’s worth). Just two stories, and somehow retaining the existing landscaping around the civic entrance – feels very constrained.
Bad news for the Coffee Van too, presumably, which currently uses that space?
I’ll admit to a huge library-obsessive bias here, but I’d have loved to see Reading be more ambitious, rather than just play catch up. As you say, the town is literally called Reading!
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Thanks Ben. Yes, I’d have to presume they would take some space within the existing civic offices as part of the new library. I don’t know whether an increase in home working or other efficiencies can free up some space there. Maybe another spot for the van can be found in the vicinity too.
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