A huge project to transform an area of Reading town centre and build a total of 618 apartments has been given the go ahead.
Earlier this week, Reading Borough Council’s policy committee agreed to begin searching for a developer to transform the Minster Quarter in the town centre.
The quarter is located where the Civic Centre used to be, between the back of Broad Street Mall and Reading Magistrates Court.
The area is currently made up of the dated San Francisco Libre Walk, a community garden and Blue Collar Corner, which opened in March.
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The council-led project would see the area transformed into a new public destination in town and a place for hundreds of people to live.
So what happens now?
The project is in its early stages.
At a policy committee meeting on Monday, July 11, the council agreed to the principles of the development and has begun a search for a developer to deliver the project and submit a planning application.
The total of 618 apartments would be split into two phases.
Phase 1 would see 190 apartments and a 90-bed hotel built, which would be assisted by £2 million from the Government’s Brownfield Land Release Fund.
Phase 2 would see 428 apartments built, with the ground floors of the residential buildings being open for “active uses.”
The project has come under fire from Green councillors.
Councillor David McElroy (Green, Redlands) said the ‘eyeballs and lungs’ of future occupants and visitors would be ‘destroyed’ by the IDR.
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Jason Brock, the council leader, called these comments ‘overwrought hyperbole.’
Cllr Brock said: “I think it’s quite extraordinary Cllr McElroy that you don’t think it’s important that we provide homes for people in the town.”
Green space is not referred to in the key development principles, however there is mention of steps being taken to mitigate the impact of the IDR during the planning phase.
Additionally, Cllr Brock said Food4 Families, which runs the Lavender Community Garden on the site, would be relocated elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Cllr Rob White (Green, Park), leader of the opposition, called for more affordable houses to be build, rather than the 30 per cent required.
The council did previously have a policy where all developments of 15 homes and more should have 50 per cent affordable housing, which was adopted in the Core Strategy in 2008 but lowered to 30 per cent when the strategy was updated in 2015.
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In reply, Cllr Brock said: “30 per cent is the appropriate policy compliance that we would expect.
“[It] is an aspirational goal, and we want to deliver high quality affordable housing on the site.
“If we find a partner who’s able to deliver more than that, I’m sure we’ll push it further, but I can guarantee we won’t.”
The work of finding developers to deliver the project has been delegated to the council’s executive director for economic growth and neighbourhood services, in consultation with Cllr Brock, deputy leader Cllr Tony Page (Labour, Abbey) and other senior officials.
The decision on selecting the developer will then be brought to a future policy committee meeting.