Outside of London, Reading is the single most economically driven and successful town or city in the country.
Putting the capital aside, the Berkshire town ranks top for employees’ contribution to the economy and the number of businesses per capita.
It’s also been voted the best place to start a new business, as well as featuring in the top five places in the UK for average wage, skills and dynamism. Not bad going.
New developments, redevelopments, brand new train stations and lines, retail and hospitality projects, housing builds, hotels, business park overhauls, there are several exciting and large-scale construction projects either underway or due to begin soon.
Keen to find out more about how Reading is marking its mark on the map? Join our half-day event, ‘Reading 2030’ in June and celebrate the growth of the Thames Valley’s new economic powerhouse while learning about what’s in store for the town.
All of which look set to improve the area and align Reading with its ever-improving reputation as an economic and employment hub.
We’ve thumbed through the blueprints and come up with six major projects that look set to make their mark in the coming months and years…
Easily the most talked about and noticeable works happening in Reading at the moment are those slowly unveiling outside its very busy train station.
Hot on the heels of the billion pound refurbishment of the station itself, the area around it is now getting revamped.
The flagship project will see a large 18-storey office building put up opposite the station, with 600 apartments being built on the nearby Friar Street.
Further office workspace and flats have been mooted, with shops, bars and restaurants also in the plans.
Once complete, the area will offer the kind of welcome that guests arriving by rail can’t help but be impressed by.
This one seems as if it may be a fair way off, but if it happens could vastly improve an area of town that’s been a little overlooked in recent years.
The town’s former shopping precinct, the Broad Street Mall (still known to most established locals as ‘The Butts Centre’), looks set to have four towers built on top of it, with 422 flats created (10% of which will be sold as ‘affordable housing’). The project looks set to cost developers over £110m.
The mall itself is being sold, so more works and improvements seem likely. Part of plans for the area’s rejuvenation include rebuilding - or at least remodelling - The Hexagon, the town’s largest theatre/arts centre. As well as building a large public square, ambitious plans to deck over a large section of the IDR (inner distribution road) and create green park space in various areas.
Reading West Station
Anyone who lives in the west of Reading will be aware of the various traffic issues that have and continue to be caused by some of the works being carried out to improve the public transport hub there. With an obvious sense of irony to be appreciated in car traffic suffering because of works to upgrade a railway station.
In the context of the town, these works are fairly low key. It’s just £3.3m of building, with new lighting and CCTV being installed; with toilets, a retail facility and better waiting areas planned. New ticket gates, a bus interchange and improved cycle parking are also included in the scope of the works.
Early designs were roundly mocked on social media, with understandable comparisons made between the proposed designs and a rusty old shipping container. Architects have since returned to their drawing boards.
This is not a huge project by any means, but indicative of an improvement to the town as a whole.
The addition of graffiti to a prominent landmark is usually met with scorn, tuts and a council worker with a large scrubbing brush. That wasn’t the case when spray paint met the outside of the walls of the now-disused Reading Prison in March of 2021. That’s because that spray paint came from the cans of a certain street artist from Bristol.
Banksy’s work (‘The Create Escape’) shows a prisoner - presumably inspired by Oscar Wilde - slinking over the wall via some rope made of bedsheets and weighed down with a typewriter. The piece was designed to help draw attention to the scheme to turn the place into something of a cultural hub. That appeal appears to have been rejected. Instead, it seems as if the site is to be redeveloped into housing, although the MoJ is yet to confirm a sale.
Aspirations to keep the site true to its history and also use the building as an arts space have faded somewhat, but are still possible. Either way, it seems certain that some kind of large-scale work will see serious changes to Wilde’s former bastille home.
Reading Green Park station
At almost 200 acres, Reading’s Green Park is a sizeable business park. 19 large office buildings surround a large lake, with more than 1,500,000 sq.ft. of workspace used by nearly 7,000 employees. Just a mile away from Junction 11 of the M4 and with plenty of parking, it’s perfectly suited for drivers. Anyone using public transport has to rely on the regular bus service which, while frequent and comfortable, can put added time onto a commute.
The answer seems to lie in adding a train station. Plans have existed in various forms for decades but a sensible proposal was approved in 2015. Work is now almost complete and it should open at some point in the summer of 2022. The station sits on the Reading to Basingstoke line and will run services into and from each town every half an hour.
One project that Reading residents will have seen built almost in front of their eyes is the rapidly-created 750+ 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments where Toys ‘R’ Us and Homebase used to be. This Thameside housing development is almost finished and, alongside the flats, will feature ‘a central riverside square with proposed café, restaurant, local store, gym, co-working studio, nursery and landscaped open spaces along the river.’
And those are just some of the projects which have been announced. There are plenty more besides these and, no doubt, many in the planning stage that are yet to be publicly declared. It's an exciting time indeed for the biscuit town.