Plans to regenerate Reading’s historic town centre have taken a step forward, with the council agreeing plans to find a development partner for its Minster Quarter proposals.

The first phase of the redevelopment will include around 187 homes if the council is successful in its bid for £2 million of funding from the Government’s Brownfield Land Release Fund.

The Minster Quarter area includes land where the council’s old offices used to be, Reading’s police station and Broad Street Mall.

Reading Chronicle: PICTURED: Broad Street MallPICTURED: Broad Street Mall

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Reading Borough Council (RBC) also wants to deck over the Inner Distribution Road as part of the scheme, which its deputy leader described as an “environmental catastrophe”.

Councillor Tony Page, lead member for Planning and deputy leader, said: “This is clearly one of the most important sites in the borough.

“Since we vacated the old Civic Offices site and saw it demolished and cleared, we have always recognised the enormous potential and also the difficulties in regenerating this site.

“I don’t think there will be any shortage of interest. Reading has always been an attractive place to invest in.

“It’s a challenging site but the level of investment already being shown in Reading and the level of interest in key sites in and around the town shows that there is that potential.”

RBC’s Policy committee last night (Monday, June 14) approved plans to look for a development partner “to bring expertise and resources to the table”.

Cllr Page said he hopes to take forward the project “on the ground in the next few years” but the council needs “help, advice and finance” to do this.

Plans for the whole site, to build a mixed-used development in total on the site including up to 1,100 homes, offices and public squares, have largely stalled since late 2018.

RBC had hoped to buy the Reading Town Police Station on Castle Street to help progress the regeneration but the police turned down its offer earlier this year.

Reading Chronicle: PICTURED: The council failed to buy the Reading town centre police stationPICTURED: The council failed to buy the Reading town centre police station

Redeveloping the site will be challenging, due to the concrete podium and the different levels of the site, and due to the different owners involved – the council, Broad Street Mall and whoever buys the police station (Thames Valley Police is moving to Atlantic House in south Reading in 2022).

The council plans to build 450-470 homes in total on the land it owns in the Minster Quarter, as well as providing open public space, including proposals to deck over the Inner Distribution Road (IDR) and make Queen’s Walk “Reading’s answer to the New York High Line aerial park”.

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Cllr Page said: “The idea to deck over the IDR is not simply to cover an environmental catastrophe but it is also the potential to provide that additional open space that could then justify and relate to a higher density development on the old civic site and that area around it.”

The council in 2018 published a Minster Quarter development framework which roughly set out the way in which the site should be developed.

Other RBC ambitions for the site include a high amount of affordable housing, leisure and community facilities, an expanded Hosier Street market and tall buildings.

Meanwhile, the owners of the Broad Street Mall are reportedly looking to either find a development partner for their planned expansion of the site or to sell the building.

A development of three 18-20 storey towers above the mall containing 368 flats was given planning permission last year.

But Cllr Page said he thinks it is “almost certain” the Broad Street Mall proposal will be revisited, comparing it to the many applications that came in for the Station Hill development which is now going ahead.