The Emperor has no clothes

A Vision for Reading 2050 has been published. What is it all about beyond the garish bright pink cover and the migraine inducing rainbow coloured graphics?

The vision, developed by Reading University, Reading UK CIC and planners and designers Barton Willmore is short on text and big on graphics. There is also a Youtube video where you can see the transformation of Reading take place before your eyes.

Reading 2050 Vision, produced by Barton Willmore.

This science fantasy which is being imposed on Reading by the troika of smugness comprises three core themes which are then explained in terms of why?, what?, and how do we deliver this? :

  • a green tech city,
  • a city of culture and diversity,
  • a city of rivers and parks.

It is a pompous and patronising document from the perspective of outsiders which talks Reading down. Reading Borough Council (RBC), represented on the Reading UK CIC board by Councillor Jo Lovelock and Chief Executive Peter Sloman, should reclaim some of the glory for Reading’s achievements on the town’s behalf or they will all disappear like tears in rain.

Statements are made which are replete with jargon and soundbites to the point of incomprehensibility. Some just do not make sense at all. There are also factual errors.

Lowlights of the Vision

1. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi is offensive and pointless

‘The future depends on what you do today’. The famous Gandhi quote is unnecessary in this context, controversial, political and weighed down with historical baggage.

2. Calling Reading a city is irritating

It is clearly important to the vision that Reading will be a city but continuous repetition of the word will not make it so. Nothing is said in the document about how it will be delivered. Reading is a town, not a city, and does being a town very well.

We are not amused

3. The definition of ‘vision’ is meaningless

A Vision is a shared and desirable expectation of a plausible future, that helps us understand how a city might evolve and look in the future. It enables us to proactively deal with key challenges in incremental steps, to achieve what may at first seem like ambitious long-term objectives and substantial change.

4. The statement that two of Reading’s 16 wards are in the top 10% of the most deprived in England is incorrect

The Reading 2050 team have misstated the situation about deprivation in Reading. For Reading to have 2 (12.5%) of its wards in the 10% of most deprived wards in England would be an unexpectedly shocking statistic.

Statistics on deprivation are compiled from a range of underlying indicators, many taken from census data, to arrive at an index of multiple deprivation (IMD). As far as possible, these indicators are collected at the level of a ‘lower layer super output area’ (LSOA) which is a small area of several streets with similar characteristics.

Two of Reading’s LSOAs are within the 10% most deprived LSOAs in England and the overall situation is described by RBC on their website:

Whilst Reading benefits from high employment and high earnings, there are some areas in the borough that are experiencing high and rising levels of deprivation. Between the 2001 census and the most recent census in 2011, two areas in south Reading (the far south of Whitley ward and to the south of Northumberland Avenue in Church ward) fell into the 10% most deprived areas in England. The most recent IMD data was produced in late 2015.

A deprivation map is also available which shows the comparative deprivation level of each Reading LSOA.

5. ‘Doomesday Book’ mentions River Thames, River Kennet and Holy Brook

Really? There is another book called Domesday Book which mentions Reading, Whitley, Southcote and Caversham.

The Kennet at Rose Kiln Lane

6. The emperor has no clothes

The document admits that there is no substance to the vision, that any similarity to any place in Reading, despite identifying the locations by name on the website, is purely coincidental and just an artist’s impression, or in its own words:

The scenarios we have created for each city theme are not part of the statutory planning process and not specific to the areas shown, but instead are a selection of ideas to inspire and prompt thinking into what could be possible in Reading.

7. Reading is not a theme park

The artist’s impressions in the document and video (above) show the transformation of Reading into a socially engineered, antiseptic metropolis.

  • the theme of a ‘green tech city’ is illustrated by the area around the station and Town Hall square,
  • the theme of a ‘city of culture and diversity’ is illustrated by the area around Chatham Place & Oxford Road, and London Street foot on the edge of Katesgrove,
  • the theme of a ‘city of rivers and parks’ is illustrated by the Thames near the new pedestrian and cycle bridge and the Kennet at Abbey Wharf.

These illustrations are presented as desirable. If they or similar developments were to become reality the consequences for existing communities would be as dramatic as those undertaken in the 1960s and 70s when for example the Spring Gardens area of Katesgrove was redeveloped.

The people populating these fanciful yet horrendous depictions of a future virtual reality Reading seem to be mooching about the place trying to look cool on a beautiful summer’s day. There’s not much normal day-to-day life going on; no one is working, no one even looks as if they are going to work, no shopping bags and none of the many cyclists are wearing helmets. Where is the warmth of a real community?

8. Heritage

The vision does not demonstrate an understanding of the place that heritage plays in the life of Reading people or what is involved in the management of heritage including listed buildings and conservation areas.

‘How to deliver a city of culture and diversity’ includes the statement:

Refurbish existing heritage assets for preservation as well as for temporary and modern, innovative uses, e.g. the Prison, Abbey etc.

The conservation (not refurbishment or preservation) of Reading Abbey is happening now and Reading Abbey will reopen to the public in 2018. Reading 2050 adds nothing to that.

Furthermore, does Reading really need the appropriation of locally significant landmarks by a large sign on the walls of Reading prison, or anywhere else, that states ‘Unleash your Creativity’ or a sign along the top of the Black History mural in Katesgrove that says ‘Since 1990’?

The ‘Black History’ mural

9. This is a rebranding exercise despite a statement to the contrary

This is not a response to historic trends or a rebranding exercise but instead seeks to present politically and economically viable ambitions and opportunities which can deliver a smart and sustainable future for everyone.

Setting out the how? for delivering a ‘green tech city’, a ‘city of culture and diversity’ and a ‘city of rivers and parks’ includes existing initiatives and programmes without any recognition or acknowledgement of those who are involved with them.

10. Opening up the rivers and waterways is all about making money

Early on in the Reading 2050 journey the statement was made that “Reading has avoided embracing its river frontages”. This belief persists and must be challenged.

After Courage brewery (previously H & G Simonds) moved to Worton Grange, the site eventually became the Oracle shopping centre. Reading should be proud of this development which both allowed access to the Kennet and kept shops in the centre of town rather than an out-of-town shopping mall.

Beyond the town centre, extensive riverside areas are currently developed or awaiting development for housing such as just over the other side of the Kennet, the old Lok n’ Store site.

Some of Reading’s parks and open spaces, such as the Rivermead and Thameside Promenade along the Thames and Waterloo Meadows by the Kennet, are free to use and open to all. These are currently protected in the draft new local pan and surely they would not be sacrificed for developers’ profit from luxury waterside properties?

11. “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”

The Reading 2050 team includes Reading University, so it is not surprising that the many services that this ‘world class’ institution can supply to ordinary Readingas by coming down from the mountain are peppered throughout the document.

12. Are we there yet?

We are told that Reading will know if the 2050 vision has been achieved from the following possible headlines:

  • Reading named UK’s friendliest city.
  • Henry I experience in Reading awarded tourist destination of the year.
  • Reading cited as model of social equality.
  • Reading floating homes community celebrates tenth anniversary.
  • Reading named #1 for UK creative industry apprenticeships.
  • Reading’s new IDR park to be finish of Tour of Britain 2050.
  • Fleet of driverless cars to be delivered to city centre.
  • Reading named ‘clean air’ leader in UK.
  • Reading named UK City of Culture.
  • All Reading schools now in the UK top 5%.
  • Reading named most exciting Thameside location outside London.
  • Reading becomes first UK 100% renewable, self-powered city.

Results like this mean a lot to Reading UK CIC:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

The author of this opinion is now going into hiding in her hovel on the hill hoping to avoid a direct strike from a pizza delivered by drones until the publishing of Reading’s new local plan makes it safe to come out again. “The time has come, the end is nigh!”

  1. Reading 2050
  2. Reading 2050 timeline
  3. Reading University
  4. Reading UK CIC
  5. Barton Willmore
  6. Domesday book online
  7. Whitley was in the Domesday book
  8. Reading Borough Council – Deprivation by ward & Deprivation map
  9. Reading Abbey Quarter
  10. New Local Plan