Fears have been raised that newcomers living in an exciting new area of Reading town centre could have their eyes and lungs ‘destroyed’ by the IDR.
Councillors recently debated plans for redeveloping the Minster Quarter, the area of the town centre behind Broad Street Mall, comprising The Hexagon forecourt and public space.
The area is currently characterised by the dated paved plaza San Francisco Libre Walk, the Lavender Place Community Gardens and Blue Collar Corner.
The council is seeking developers to transform it into a new public and residential destination, with a total of 618 apartments and a 90 bed hotel.
But councillor David McElroy (Green, Redlands) raised fears that future residents and guests would be badly impacted by the IDR.
Cllr McElroy said: “In principle, something needs to be done with this space.
“It’s such a big open space, our imagination really is the limit, something being exercised by those making use of the Lavender Garden currently.
“But it seems like we’re mostly getting, what’s at the heart of it, is a shed load of flats and a hotel block, the occupants of which will likely have their lungs and eyeballs destroyed by the IDR.
“It is a huge opportunity but it also seems like a wasted opportunity to complement the cultural possibilities by creating a peaceful new greener space in the centre of town, but green space doesn’t even get a mention in the entire report, let alone in the Key Development Principles.
“So I guess in the pursuit of more cold drafty concrete I just find the council’s lack of aspiration for the sort of ‘city’ Reading could be to be a bit depressing.”
Jason Brock (Labour, Southcote) the council leader, called his comments ‘a stretch too far.’
Reading as a whole has pollution of nitrogen oxides and dioxides and particulate matters (called PM10 and PM2.5) which exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
Concerns have been raised that the pollutants cause asthma and other life shortening illnesses.
However, data from the Central Office of Public Interest shows 97 per cent of the UK exceeded at least one of the WHO targets.
Meanwhile, cllr Rob White (Green, Park) the opposition leader, has called for more of the proposed apartments to be affordable.
The council has currently asked any developer to deliver 30 per cent affordable housing, in line with its affordable housing policy.
After the meeting, cllr White said: “Greens remain concerned about Reading’s housing crisis.
“Because the council owns the site it has the opportunity to deliver more affordable housing here.
“Previously the council had the policy that 50 per cent of housing should be affordable and at Arthur Hill, another Reading Council owned site, 100 per cent of the housing being built will be affordable.
“The current lacklustre proposal is a missed opportunity to do more to tackle the lack of affordable housing in Reading.
But cllr Brock stressed that 30 per cent of affordable housing is appropriate, policy compliant and viable for potential developers to deliver.
The exchanges took place at a policy committee meeting where councillors agreed to the key principles of the Minster Quarter transformation and seek a developer to make the project a reality.
Aspects of the development include:
- Enhancing and improving The Hexagon
- Providing homes and a new hotel
- Allowing the occupiers of Lavender Gardens, Food4Families to relocate
The project was approved by 13 votes, with cllrs White and McElroy voting against it.