Reg Vastern-King chair and founder of the Friends of the IDR had watched the events unfolding at the Reading Borough Council (RBC) planning applications committee when the proposal to build four residential towers at Broad St Mall was discussed. I met Reg at his favourite hostelry, the Reindeer on Southampton Street to ask him what he thought about it all.
“I can’t believe it” he said “three of the towers will loom over the magnificent canyon section of the Inner Distribution Road between Castle Street and Friar Street and completely ruin our ability to appreciate it. They are even talking about decking over it again!”
“I’m gutted. I tell you I walked out of that meeting stunned! I came straight here, luckily it’s not too far from the Civic Offices because it was almost closing time when they finally voted to approve the application.”
“I still can’t believe it! I mean why would they? One of Reading’s unique assets, a transport heritage attraction and it will be forever blighted by a 20 and 18 storey towers on top of the Butts Centre and another 16 storey tower where the Target Nightclub used to be.”
“Where will the fourth tower be?” I asked.
“That’s going to be on the Oxford Road side for 42 ‘affordable’ apartments in a shorter tower.”
Then I asked Reg if he had submitted an objection to the application.
“No point” he said. “They wouldn’t have taken any notice. They didn’t even seem to care about ‘official’ heritage like Grade I listed churches and conservation areas.”
He continued, “They produced all these before and after photographs in a document called Broad Street Mall Masterplan, Environmental Impact Assessment Volume 2 [EIA Volume 2]: Townscape, Built Heritage and Visual Impact Assessment. The IDR was not in a single photograph. Can you believe it! There was a view from the A33 near Temple Place, but none from the IDR or showing the IDR!”
“That EIA by the way is currently document 240 out of 453 on the planning website if you care to look it up.”
“Why would I?” I thought to myself.
Reg was in full flow now, he had taken an obsessive interest in this application. “Later they added a photo of the recycling bins on Howard Street, that was the closest they got. That’s in the Further Heritage and Townscape Response Jan 2020, at the bottom of page five. They actually had that one projected up on the wall of the Council Chamber during the meeting.”
We wanted to get on to the decking.
“Would you like another beer Reg?”
He nodded and I made my way to the bar. When I got back Reg was leafing wistfully through the photographs in the souvenir edition of the 2019 IDR yearbook, but he perked up a bit when I put his second pint of SB down on the table in front of him.
“Cheers!” he said.
“Are you ready to tell me about the decking Reg?”
“I suppose I’d better get it over with. I need to get used to it being talked about and one day I suppose it might actually happen but I don’t think I’ll be around when it does” he chuckled.
“It was the guy from the Baker Street Area Neighbourhood Association who mentioned it first. He went on about the lack of parks and open space in his area, how they must be provided and then he said ‘ideally by decking over the IDR’. I thought here we go again. He suggested the £633k that the developer was going to have to pay towards open space in the area should be ring-fenced for this [at 2:10:00].”
“But surely Reg,” I said “you knew that decking over had been mentioned in the Hosier Street, sorry, Minster Quarter Area Development Framework.”
“I know, but it was right at the bottom of the page after the footbridge and green bridge options and I thought, Reading will never have the money for either of them, so no point worrying about decking just yet. The Mile End Green Bridge cost millions, then there’s the maintenance.”
“Later, Councillor Jo Lovelock had to go and mention the previous failed decking proposal that was meant to happen in Phase 2 of the Chatham Place development. She said ‘I can remember the disappointment we had when the decking of the IDR didn’t happen as a result of Chatham Place. I won’t go on about the history of that, but we also lost a swimming pool and other things that the one-year coalition [between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats] rolled over on – but that’s history now [at 3:23:30].'”
“Yes we mentioned that on our Walk Around the IDR” I said. “The developer actually called it ‘Taming the IDR’.”
“A bit later, Councillor Page went on about the IDR again and said ‘I think it is absolutely fundamental to the future success of the wider Minster Quarter regeneration that the IDR is decked over.’ He then said ‘It is the only area where we can deliver a green open space. It will fill and cover an environmental catastrophe namely the IDR… ‘.”
The future of the IDR
“Didn’t you have something to say about the future of the IDR in your response to the consultation on Reading’s new transport strategy?” I asked.
“I did” Reg said. “What I said was ‘If Reading is serious about becoming a town that tourists want to visit then what better circular route around the town is there than an IDR only for pedestrians, cycles and public transport?’. Wouldn’t that be beautiful? People misunderstand that being a Friend of the IDR means that I love the traffic and the fumes and the noise and all that, but I don’t.”
“Anyway, if there is still traffic going up and down the IDR there will still be pollution – that will all have to go somewhere. Did you know they’ve got 72 fans in the Rheinüfer tunnel in Düsseldorf.”
“That’s a bit longer than the section of decking they’re talking about though isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s nearly 2 kilometres, some piece of engineering and there is even an art gallery in there.”
Reg was looking a bit sad again and had nearly finished his beer, so I asked our final question.
“Was there anything good in the meeting?” I asked.
“Well at one point it struck me, I wonder what the view of the IDR will be from up there! But honestly that was the only good thing that might come of it and only if they don’t deck over it.”
That seemed to cheer him up a bit – no doubt he was planning a visit to the penthouse suite if and when the show homes opened.
- RBC planning applications committee 4 March 2020 papers and webcast
- Minster Quarter Area Development Framework
- Planning applications 182137 & 051364 & 120293
- Friends of the IDR
- Broad St Mall
- Simonds Pale Ales 1948-1960
- Rheinüfertunnel Düsseldorf (in German)
- Friends of the IDR respond to the RBC transport consultation
- Introduction to “a walk around Reading’s IDR”