Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Round-Up: Station Designs Move Ahead

The massive redevelopments at Reading's Station Hill have been given the full treatment by local journalists and bloggers recently.

Station Hill
New plans show the site will eventually house over 1m sq ft of mixed-use space in five skyscrapers reaching up to 120m (400ft) height after a previous plan was vetoed last year with English Heritage and CABE expressing concern about the scale of the impact of such a development.

Reading Guide's 'Editor John' is excited by the plans but notes some incongruity in the extended back-and-forth manner of accepting a bigger version of something which was put on hold because it was too big. The central location of the site meant it was always likely to be a drawn out affair, however, as attested to by this 6-year-old thread from skyscrapercity.

So it strikes a discordant note that Sackville director Ian Smith says of the plans that "the overall size density has been reduced by 24 per cent," while it is simultaneously described as being 'bigger and better'.

Conservative MP for Reading East, Rob Wilson, also supports the plans. He said of the changes made in the intervening review, "it has addressed the concerns raised in the original plan, with more public space and better access for pedestrians." Which is what you'd expect as the site will now cover 5.1 acres (up from 3.5 acres).

Local businessman and consortium leader Sir John Madejski has been on a promotional campaign as he hopes to win backing for his commercial proposals. The plans were laid out in an exhibition last weekend and it is expected that a planning application will go to the council in June with the hope that work will begin in 2011 and the expectation that the first phase will be completed by 2014.

You can view the architects designs here.


Reading Station
Reading Chronicle helpfully provides a timeline for the plans.

Leader of RBC, Labour's Cllr Jo Lovelock could hardly keep her hat on, effusively hyping the new station as the best thing to hit Reading "since Brunel was alive."

Executive director of Reading UK CIC, Tim Smith, is most worried about any further potential delays considering total passenger numbers using Reading station are expected to double from 17m to 35m within the next decade. He urged, "the sooner we can get this going, the better for Reading."

However Conservative group leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty took a slightly different line as he determined to be 'open' to ongoing discussions about the specifics of the scheme.

Which is probably a prudent course as LibDems are less convinced, offering only cautious support. Despite new £4.3m funding for an upgrade to nearby bus and taxi stops, they demand all forms of transport should be taken properly into account.

LibDem leader Cllr Gareth Epps said, "There is a huge danger that Reading loses an unrepeatable opportunity for a world-class transport interchange."

Transport spokesman Cllr Ricky Duveen explained, "we should be putting passengers first," adding that although regeneration is welcome, the council "cannot allow... regeneration at any price."

This echoed Network Rail's Robbie Burns, who, in announcing Bechtel as the engineering partner for the rail realignment, said, "Passengers and freight users are at the core of our work."

Cllr Willis notes the potential for controversy, but says "key for me is that as the plans evolve all users are informed and consulted."

Nonetheless Cllr Duveen states on his own blog that there is a larger lesson to be drawn from this saga.

He highlights the limitations of the current planning system when two massive developments are occurring side-by-side, but without coordination with what the other is doing.

Reading Forum also has an open thread for discussion.

Oranjepan says:
As the plans for the much-needed improvements in and around our stations steam ahead, we should ensure we aren't railroaded into hastily accepting anything less than everything we need.


  1. I think that some people in this town are suffering from delusions of grandeur.

    This is not New York, Frankfurt or Hong Kong but Reading, a provincial town to the west of London which once upon a time used to be home to the UK computer industry and now is not.

    All we have to do is look around at the empty office blocks currently in the town centre to realise that we do not need any more & that’s without mentioning the disaster which is Green Park.

    Put simply, we are too close to London to attract the major corporations which would look to rent the type of structures envisaged for our town centre and to go ahead with this development would just create another White Elephant.

    If Reading is to thrive economically in the future, I believe that greater focus should be placed on creating an environment which would support high tech SME’s in the ITC and BioTech sectors. Small companies which have the potential to expand in this area and create jobs for local people.

  2. Hmm, maybe, but on the other hand many detractors suffer from a lack of ambition for the town.

    Reading isn't just a provincial town on the periphery - it is also a regional capital at the heart of the national economy and society.

    The question of emphasis is one which could (and probably should) be debated endlessly, but looking at the properties about, the one's which stand empty are those which are overpriced for the value they offer. There is plenty of capacity for new space in a competitive sector, but that depends on remaining competitive and attractive.

    With a location on the doorstep of on of the top 5 stations in the country (excluding any London terminus) and upgrades planned (airtrack, potentially crossrail and a channel tunnel link) the desirability of Reading centre, and particularly Station Hill, is only set to increase well into the medium and long-term.

  3. This will be interesting in the planning vote. If for example the Libdems say no and the Labour say yes, that will leave the Tories with the casting 'votes'.
    My question is will they be able to look at the overall scheme without bias , when JM is a major financial backer of their party.Seems to me like a conflict of interests , and serves to make my point that donations to political parties should be capped at £10,000 per annum for this type of reason.


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