I’ve occupied my present home in Northcourt Avenue, Reading for 30 years, but I’ve lived in the Whitley area my whole life. In that time, I’ve witnessed a lot of change as Reading has grown and the number of people living and working in the town has followed suit. Traffic and parking issues appear to be an inevitable part of this growth.
I find Northcourt Avenue a perfect spot to live in; it’s close to facilities such as the Royal Berkshire Hospital, the town centre and the railway station, and it has a regular bus service. I made the decision that this home would be my “forever” home when I entered my fifties; caring for elderly relatives who have been forced to surrender their driving licences and for whom hospital visits have become a little more routine has added to my belief that this area is one in which I’d like to stay.
Our local shopping amenity, the Christchurch Green parade, has always offered most of what we need. I can recall the post office was behind the green grocers shop when I first moved to Northcourt Avenue in 1989. One would have to negotiate one’s way through the shop and past Mrs Franklin, the shop owner, who looked quite fearsome. You almost felt obliged to make a purchase of the rather sub-standard fruit and veg on display in order to pass through, then you’d go down a step to the very cosy wooden-clad room that was the post office This was well before the days of safety glass to protect the employees from potential robberies.
Many readers may remember the dog that lived in the post office. I think he (or she) belonged to one of the ladies who worked there; I think he was elderly, big and black, but he hardly moved from his spot on the floor and took little interest in the surroundings, perhaps lazily wagging his tail if a passing customer bent to stroke him.
Over time, the parade has significantly altered. Although Lloyds chemists is always so busy, it’s wonderful to have a local pharmacy where one can collect prescriptions. The two supermarkets have expanded over the years, offering a greater selection of food products to cater for the local student population which has become far more culturally diverse.
There’s been an increase in the number of fast food outlets and takeaways in the last five or six years. The Indian restaurant Sizzling Spice replaced the French restaurant that was there before it, but before long we had Domino’s Pizza, which replaced a fast food takeaway. Thankfully, Domino’s bid to extend licensing hours from 1am to 5am was refused by Reading Borough Council (RBC) after local residents raised objections about the extra noise, litter and disturbance this would bring to the area.
On 27 August, the Planning Inspectorate dismissed an appeal against RBC’s decision to refuse an application to convert the former launderette at 60 Christchurch Road into another takeaway restaurant. There had been local objection to this proposal, especially given that RBC’s draft local plan specifically identifies the Christchurch Road shops as a local centre.
Section RL3 (pages 109-110) sets out plans for the vitality and viability of smaller local centres. There is specific guidance about the composition of the key frontage:
Within district, major local and local centres, development will be permitted provided that:
- There would be no more than two consecutive A5 takeaways, and no more than 30% of the length of the key frontage would be in takeaway use.
There is now another planning application to convert the former NatWest bank at 76 Christchurch Road into yet another takeaway.
By my calculations, out of the 13 shop units on the Christchurch Green frontage, four (31%) are currently being used for fast food. Including the former bank conversion and the (now disallowed) conversion of 60 Christchurch Road, that would have risen to six (46%).
We need to address and prevent this massive influx of food retail units that threatens to devastate the parade which provides relevant local services and facilities to the community. RBC’s draft local plan is there to provide some sort of protection to areas such as this, but within present financial constraints, the local authority struggles to adequately perform its role.
It’s therefore up to us, the local community, to remain vigilant and take collective action when necessary.
As chair of NARA (Northcourt Avenue Residents Association) I will continue to work with neighbours to preserve the area as one we can all continue to make full use of. Councillors Ashley Pearce and Rob White have been and continue to be actively involved in working alongside us.