Drews Ironmongers Reading replacement with flats approved

The Drews The Ironmongers was a shop that sold metal utensils, hardware, protective gear and more at 71-73 Caversham Road, Reading until it closed down in October 2018 after 87 years in the town.

Following its closure, the building was bought by developer S2 Caversham with the intention of building homes on the site.

An earlier plan by the developer which would have involved Drews being completely replaced with a seven-storey, 44-apartment building was torpedoed by councillors in October 2020.

The project was complicated by the fact that the building was locally listed after a campaign by the Bell Tower Community Association, a group of neighbours in the area.

While S2 Caversham appealed against the refusal to the government’s planning inspectorate, its appeal was dismissed in 2021.

But the developer came back with a more modest plan for a six-storey building with 29 apartments, made up of one-three bed, six two-bed and  22  one-bed flats, with retail space on the ground floor.

Furthermore, the plan involved less demolition than before, with the part of the building stretching back from Caversham Road -which used to function as a beer malthouse in the 1800s- being retained.

The latest scheme was recently decided on by Reading Borough Council’s planning committee.

Voicing his concerns, committee member councillor James Moore (Liberal Democrats, Tilehurst) said:  “We are still proposing to demolish two-thirds of a locally listed site, I’m not especially happy with that.”

In reply, Cllr Tony Page (Labour, Abbey) said: “Just to remind cllr Moore, we originally  faced with the complete loss of the building, and we overturned officer advice, and we went to appeal and won.”

The Drews plan was originally meant to be decided on Wednesday, March 1, but judgements were deferred for further discussions with the developer about the residential mix and the tenure split of the affordable housing provision.

The concerns about the affordable housing mix were raised by committee member cllr Tony Page (Labour, Abbey) and ward member cllr Richard Davies (Labour, Thames).

Of the 29 apartments, eight will be made affordable through shared ownership, with six being one-bed and two being two-bed.

The developer has also agreed to pay £58,400 towards affordable housing elsewhere in the borough.

S2 Caversham chose not to make any changes to the affordable housing offer after providing economic viability assessments.

Cllr Moore said: “I’m disappointed that, even though we’ve got lots of information, we haven’t got what we hoped for at the last meeting.”

Earlier, cllr Micky Leng (Labour, Whitley) said: “Sometimes, providing affordable homes and getting it through planning can be like swimming through treacle.”

In a vote, only cllr Moore abstained, with all members voting to approve the plan on Wednesday, March 29.

You can view the approved application by typing reference 220922 into the council’s planning portal.

Reading Chronicle | Town Centre