Fresh plans for the Broad Street Mall in Reading were unveiled in the summer of this year by mall owners AEW, which bought the shopping centre in June 2022.
The AEW vision was presented, by planning consultant Jonathan Walton, to elderly residents who are members of Reading Borough Council’s Older People’s Working Group.
He revealed that AEW hopes to complete the project by the summer of 2028.
Mr Walton also explained the reason why the new plan had emerged, after an earlier scheme for towers and a hotel was approved by the council in December 2021.
Towers in the approved scheme had one set of stairs, not the two that are now required by law. Furthermore, AEW wanted to change what previous site owners Moorgarth had won consent for.
Moorgarth won approval to build 422 apartments and 101 hotel rooms. Meanwhile, AEW wants to build 601 flats spread across four towers, made up of 271 one-bed, 290 two-bed and 40 three-bed units.
Members of the group expressed concern about the sheer volume of flats.
Laurence Berks, a pensioner from Whitley Wood, said: “What is the need for more housing in the town centre.
“They’re starting work on the Soane Point offices. What is the need, are we reaching saturation point?”
Mr Berks referred to Soane Point in Market Place, where offices are being converted into 144 flats, and further work is being undertaken to add a further 38 apartments to the building through extensions.
Mr Berks also argued that Reading needs more affordable housing.
Mr Walton replied that the apartments would ultimately be a ‘build to rent product’ facilitating a need for individuals and small families.
He added that there is high pressure on the housing market in Reading due to ‘constrained supply and high demand’.
There were also worries about the loss of parking spaces. The mall currently has a total of 720 spaces, with 16 disabled bays and 10 parent and child bays.
The construction project would mean that the car park would have to close for a year, with an inevitable loss of spaces after that closure.
Councillor Simon Robinson (Conservative, Emmer Green) said: “The retail in Reading is suffering badly. We used to be a great centre for shopping, but that’s dropping away.”
He expressed fears that a lack of parking would discourage potential shoppers.
In reply, Mr Walton said he was provided evidence that a good portion of those who use the car park are office workers and staff in the centre.
A design shows a ramped entrance for a new car park being provided at the basement level.
These outline proposals were discussed when the Older People’s Working Group met on Friday, October 13.
The official plans for the mall have not been submitted to the council yet. Mr Walton clarified that he expects AEW to submit the plans in December.