A 620 homes development that will change the landscape of central Reading forever has been approved.
The plan for the old Royal Mail Depot in Caversham Road involves building hundreds of homes and once complete will have one of the tallest towers in Reading.
At a council planning meeting last night, the outline of the development was approved.
Called Reading Metropolitan, plans for the site were first submitted in 2018, but revisions and negotiations have stalled the decision until now.
The tallest tower in the development is 24 storeys, making it one of the tallest buildings in Reading, alongside Thames Quarter, Thames Tower and the Hewitt building.
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The 620 homes will be contained in seven tower buildings and seven townhouses, and it is understood a further two buildings would be reserved for office and community use, with a health centre being proposed as well.
Neighbours and councillors did raise a series of concerns about the outline plans.
David Neale, chairman of the Bell Tower Community Association, which represents neighbours living west of Caversham Road, called the buildings “completely out of scale” with those in the surrounding area.
Mr Neale said walking next to the tall new builds “would be like walking next to a battleship!”
He pointed out that a plan to replace Drews Ironmongers with a seven storey residential block had an appeal against its refusal dismissed in part due to its size.
Yet councillor Tony Page (Labour, Abbey) argued that the character of buildings east of Caversham Road can be different -i.e much taller- than those to its west.
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While welcoming the proposals, cllr Simon Robinson (Conservative, Peppard) was alarmed that only 94 car parking spaces for 620 homes was included in the plan.
Cllr Robinson questioned: “Is that really adequate for this sort of development?”
However, cllr Page said that car use is declining among younger people.
He said: “I know Cllr Robinson represents the Jeremy Clarkson wing of the Conservative party, but among millennials car usage is plummeting.”
Cllr Micky Leng (Labour, Whitley) asked whether a proposed new underpass for the train station would be shared or pedestrain only.
A planning officer replied that it would be shared.
Cllrs Leng and Page were disappointed that only 98 of the new homes (15.8 per cent) will be affordable, which is less than the council’s policy of 30 per cent.
Another issue was over a proposed new health centre, as the Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is in charge of organising healthcare in Reading, stated that it is “not aware of any local need” for a new health centre.
Cllr Page said he was “flabbergasted” by the CCG’s response given the amount of new development in the area.
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There were also questions over how the plan would be executed, with councillors raising fears applicants Hermes Property Unit Trust will simply sell the plans on without enacting them.
Barry Kitcherside, the planning agent for the applicants was keen to argue that this was not a ‘for sale’ planning permission, and that developers were going to deliver the plans.
Mr Kitcherside said: “This is not going to be passed under the table, that’s not the desire here. To achieve financial viability, we have got to deliver the right product.”
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Although the plan was approved unanimously by councillors last night (Wednesday, March 30), many of the details, including the design and building materials will be laid out in future applications, called reserved matter applications.
Cllr Page argued that it is “fundamental” that the design is done correctly, in order to avoid the towers looking like “bog standard utilitarian blocks.”
You can view the application yourself by typing reference 201585 into the counci’s planning portal: http://planning.reading.gov.uk/fastweb_PL/welcome.asp