In this week's column, Jason Brock, the leader of Reading Borough Council, makes an impassioned plea for the Royal Berkshire Hospital to stay in its current location, and implores residents to take part in a survey by the hospital's trust seeking views on its future. Councillor Brock writes:

Most of us will have had reason to visit Reading’s Royal Berkshire Hospital at some point, whether for treatment or as a visitor.

When the time comes, it’s reassuring to know we do not have too far to travel and that we can get to it quickly and easily. Reading has been home to the RBH for more than 180 years now. It’s easy to take for granted that the region’s principal NHS hospital is located in our hometown.

We have known for a while now that Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust is considering future options for the RBH, which include refurbishment and redevelopment of its current site, or relocation to a brand-new site outside of Reading. Every major organisation will periodically review its premises, but a major NHS hospital considering relocation is, I believe, an issue which should concern residents. Particularly those in the town it is considering vacating.

It is in that context that I want to draw people’s attention to a major consultation by the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust currently taking place, and which you may not yet have heard about. You can find it at

The Trust is in what the Government has called its (slightly misleading) ‘New Hospital Programme’ and the consultation is a precursor to a funding bid that will be submitted to the Treasury later this year.

The consultation is seeking views on how you use NHS services today so that they can plan both for tomorrow and for how they can best deliver services to the local population. I don’t think any of us would argue with that. Fundamentally, though, what is at the heart of this consultation is whether to keep the RBH in Reading or move it to a new location outside the borough.

Accessibility to the RBH is key for those who require it, whether that is patients, staff, or visitors. In that respect, the possible alternative sites mooted – such as the Hall Farm / Loddon Valley site, over four miles outside of Reading – leave an awful lot to be desired. They are in no way comparable to Reading, with its network of road, rail, and bus options (and a soon-to-be fully segregated cycle link, when our Shinfield Road Active Travel scheme is completed later this year).

While acknowledging RBH’s town centre location can bring challenges to residents in the close vicinity with parking and servicing demands, the other side of that same coin is that it benefits from our excellent, and already extant, local public transport provision.

The fact is that the Wokingham site, and indeed other sites outside of Reading, are nowhere near equipped enough to provide the level of accessibility needed for a major regional NHS hospital. A huge investment in public transport would be needed to make that site a realistic and viable option for people. The alternative is a huge backward step in the accessibility of the region’s major hospital. What does it say about Berkshire’s net zero carbon ambitions if the only realistic way for people to get to the RBH is to drive?

We know the commuter ‘path’ leading from outside our borough into Reading – whether for work or for leisure purposes – is a very well-worn one. Reading is the economic and employment hub of the Thames Valley. So why wouldn’t the region’s major NHS hospital also be located here?

And then there is Reading’s population. Surely – and this is both a basic and powerful point – it makes sense to position the region’s main NHS hospital in the very town where most of its patients and staff live, as was originally intended?

While the decision on whether to stay or go doesn’t lie with Reading Council, nor with Wokingham or West Berkshire Councils, we all have responsibility as strategic planning authorities to plan sensibly for the future. There is little doubt that environmental and transport interests are not served by moving the RBH to an inaccessible location.

The Trust’s survey is now live online and runs until 6th March. Tell your friends and family, and tell them to tell their friends if they, like me, believe the RBH belongs in Reading, at the heart of the population it serves.