Reading’s town centre will be transformed, with improved public spaces and revitalised shopfronts in three areas.

The aim of the government-funded ‘High Streets Heritage Action Zones’ (HSHAZ) scheme is to make the high street a more attractive, engaging and vibrant place for people to live, work and spend time.

Reading’s plan includes delivering physical improvements and cultural and community activities to regenerate historic high streets in the town centre.

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To deliver the plans, the council has been awarded £806,500 of funding from Historic England to transform the high streets in three conservation areas in the town centre:

  • Russell Street/Castle Hill
  • St Mary’s Butts/Castle Street
  • Market Place/London Street

Oxford Road, Castle Street, Market Place and London Street are among the roads that will benefit.

But the programme’s focus may now be altered due to the coronavirus pandemic, with council officers stating: “It is clear that programmes, plans and proposals might need to change to respond to the more pressing crisis for our high streets during and following the pandemic.

“The context in which the council will be delivering the programme will be very different from when the bid was first made almost 12 months ago and even from the programme submission in early February.

“The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is likely to be far reaching and although the council and its partners do not yet understand the full implications for the high street, it is clear that there is already a major impact on high street occupiers including retailers, cafes and other local businesses.

“The council, working with its partners, will need to quickly review our HSHAZ programme to ensure that it can play an important role in the ultimate recovery of our high streets.”

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Although the impact of Covid-19 might alter the plans, the programme will still focus on five key areas:

  • Funding will be put into streets that suffer from having vacant shops or have stores in need of investment
  • There will be improvements to public spaces.
  • Buildings will be repaired and lost features will be brought back to life, while historic buildings will be converted to new uses and shared spaces will be improved
  • Local communities will be given a key role in deciding what works they want to see happening on their high street and what sort of place they want it to be
  • There will also be cultural activities and events, celebrating the history of the high street and its importance to local communities over the generations

The council will work with partners such as local businesses, cultural and heritage organisations and community groups during the four-year programme to deliver the objectives.