PLANS are in progress to develop parts of Reading town centre as the council seeks a development partner to revamp the Minster Quarter.

Reading Borough Council has a vision to upgrade Minster Quarter, which includes the Magistrates’ Court, police station and Broad Street Mall, and build a mixed-used development including up to 1,100 homes, offices and public squares.

They say the development will provide 'much-needed affordable housing – bringing with it new growth and new jobs and opportunities for local residents'.

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Reading Chronicle: 190288) St. Mary's Church (Reading Minster) Then and Now Reading - March 2019. Pictures by Mike Swift.190288) St. Mary's Church (Reading Minster) Then and Now Reading - March 2019. Pictures by Mike Swift.

Reading Council Leader Jason Brock said: “The Minster Quarter offers massive potential to deliver new homes and employment opportunities through investment.

"It is located in the heart of our hugely attractive town centre - the region’s main shopping destination and a major transport hub in the south-east - and boasts our much-loved and popular Hexagon Theatre.

“On a personal level, I am particularly excited by the potential that such a development brings in the form of new jobs and opportunities for local people, which sits alongside this Council’s ethos of ensuring everybody in the town can share in Reading’s success.”

A report to the Policy Committee on Monday, July 11 now seeks approval to begin marketing the huge potential of the site to prospective development partners to help the Council deliver its ambitious vision. 

Three key objectives have been identified to help inform discussions with potential bidders. These are:

  • appropriate levels of affordable housing across a mix of tenures
  • high quality public realm which links to Queens Walk and St Mary’s Butts and mitigates the impact of the adjoining IDR
  • a zero carbon development in accordance with the Council’s Climate Emergency commitment

There are also hopes to develop the Hexagon Theatre after the council announced a £20 million cultural regeneration bid to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund which, if successful, would see the creation of an attractive, flexible and exciting new space for performances and the community, in addition to a modern new Central Library built at the Council’s nearby Bridge Street Offices.

The Council is keen to futureproof any development and the Policy Committee Report emphasises that the preferred bidder will be asked to safeguard a ‘landing zone’ for a new pedestrian bridge across the IDR if funding can be identified at a point in future.

It also outlines how the Council intends to make good on its promise to work with Lavender Place Community Gardens to find them a new home for their valuable work.

In collaboration with RISCs Food4families, the group has used the vacant site of the old Civic Centre as a temporary home for a number of years, as part of an arrangement with Thames Valley Police.

In recognition of the benefits of the community garden, and the important work which takes place there, the Council is now recommending granting leases to Food4Families at community land owned by Council at the Holy Brook, close to Berkeley Avenue, and land at Appleford Road.  

Jason Brock added: “We recognise the Minster Quarter is a complex site because of the way it was built in the 1970s and is likely to require a significant number of new homes to make it viable while also delivering against our broader objectives. As a Council, we are prioritising affordable homes as part of the development to help meet Reading’s significant housing need, while also seeking high-quality public realm to make this part of town a major destination once again and a great home for new residents."

Reading Borough Council’s current concept scheme for the Minster Quarter which will be put before bidders has been designed to be mixed use, with commercial and retail space to complement the new homes.

The concept scheme imagines it delivered in two phases. The first is for approximately 190 apartments and active ground floor uses and a 90 bed hotel block located on part of the Civic car park.

The first phase benefits from the Council’s successful £2 million bid for Brownfield Land Release Fund money for enabling works. A second phase would see around 428 apartments built, together with active ground floor space.

As a part of the procurement process, bidding developers will be encouraged to consider the Council’s concept scheme in bringing forward their own proposals for the project, as well as their own phasing plans.

The Council intends to formally commence the procurement process in the Autumn, with some soft market testing before that.