Newsletter

Page updated 14 April 2020

As previously notified to members we are not able to continue with the printed twice yearly newsletter. This newsletter page has therefore been established in the Website. The format will be refined in due course. Members without PCs will receive updates in the post. Feedback from members will be welcomed.

RCS Facebook Page A Reading Civic Society Facebook Page. HERE will provide more frequent updates on current issues. Search on Google for “Reading Civic Society on Facebook”. 

RCS Twitter Page A RCS Twitter page has been set up. At the moment it is not discoverable by Google searches. If you are a twitter user search for Reading Civic Society.  Work in Progress.   

Membership and Meetings

Thank you to the many members who have already renewed their subscriptions.

Our New Year Annual Lunch was held at Pepe Sale on Saturday lunchtime, Saturday 7 March.

Whilst some people decided to exercise caution in the light of the developing Conovirus over 40 members and their friends attended. Chris Widdows made his photo quiz even more challenging – it may be seen HERE . We were delighted that Jill Tait with her friend Jenny Tomblin encourage people to take part in the raffle. Thank you all for the donations the raffle raised £123. Chris Widdows images may be seen HERE

Our AGM on Saturday 25th April has had to be postponed. Please see the AGM Page. We will welcome suggestions for new committee members, or those willing simply to support our work on planning and running events even if they don’t like committee work.

The Future of Reading Gaol

In February I wrote to the Minister for Justice, Lucy Frazer QC MP, lobbying for the bid process to give due weight to the desire by the community that the site not simply become yet another housing development. In March I received a reply which indicated clearly that RBC was not the selected bidder. RBC has subsequently made that clear.

Matt Rodda MP is lobbying the MOJ and has said “I am concerned about this development and I am urging the Government to think again, and I am asking Ministers to reconsider the option of arts and heritage use and to look again at the bid from Reading Borough Council. I believe the gaol is a vital part of our heritage and should be saved and turned into an arts and heritage hub. As you can imagine, I am deeply disappointed with the Government’s approach and I am calling on Ministers to work with the council and to respect the enormous historical importance of the gaol, including the link to Oscar Wilde and the remains of Reading Abbey, part of which are under the prison site.  I am currently working with other arts and heritage campaigners and I am continuing to campaign on this issue.  I look forward to working with our community to press the Government to rethink its approach.”

Stephen Fry has recently come out very publicly in support of the “Save Reading Gaol”.  There was also a recent article in the Times on Saturday by Ben Macintyre https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/comment/save-wildes-hellhole-for-all-our-sakes-pwzf0dtmm . Also an article in The Guardian HERE  

The Save Reading Gaol Campaign has shared a new petition, started by Councillor Rachel Eden, seeking to lobby the MOJ to reconsider the preferred bidder. Please do consider signing it https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-reading-gaol-reconsider-the-bids

The original article in the Chronicle about the council’s bid is https://www.readingchronicle.co.uk/news/18045585.reading-gaol-big-agreed-reading-borough-council/

THE READING ABBEY REVEALED Project has been ‘Highly Commended’ in one of Europe’s most important and prestigious awards.

Reading Borough Council’s Reading Abbey Revealed was named as a successful 2020 National Civic Trust AABC Conservation Awards project, one of only 8 successful shortlisted projects.

The project received the accolade at the 61st Annual Civic Trust Awards Ceremony, held on Friday 6th March 2020, at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester.

Battersea Arts Centre was announced as the overall category winner, with Reading Abbey highly commended alongside seven other projects, including Alexandra Palace East Wing Regeneration in Greater London, Chichester Festival Theatre and Llanthony Secunda Priory in Gloucester. The Civic Trust Awards encourage and recognise the very best in architecture through promoting sustainability and inclusiveness throughout the built environment and rewarding projects that offer positive social and economic benefits to their local communities. It is also Europe’s longest running architectural and built environment awards programme.

Engagement and Outreach

I have been able to take part in several engagement events over the last 6 months;

  • The University of Reading’s Community Engagement Event in the Autumn (thanks to Elaine Robson for telling me about this) with the next event on 26 March.
  • 12 October – A very impressive meeting of the British Association of Friends of Museums which was held in the Victoria Hall.
  • 8 November Alison and I met the Chairs of the Wokingham and the Newbury Civic Societies to share ideas and challenges and our engagement with Civic Voice.
  • 14 November with members of the CAAC I was invited to take part in the visit to Reading by members of Historic England’s Historic Places Panel. Alongside members of Reading Borough Council we delivered briefs about Reading, its heritage, opportunities and challenges. We also accompanied their walk around the Town Centre, out to St Mary’s, Hosier Street and Oxford Road (which they were favourably impressed by in many ways) providing our take on the issues. At dinner in Thames Lido the initial feedback from the Chair of the Panel to the Councillors and Officers included “Be demanding of Developers”, “Don’t let Developers simply roll out designs they have implemented elsewhere”, “Don’t become another Croydon.” A report will be published by Spring 2020.
Above the Historic Places Panel in Oxford Road
  • 18 November I met with two residents of Lynmouth Road who, in response to the planned developments on their doorstep, are exploring the idea of setting up a Thames Path Residents Association.

Heritage Open Days 2020 11-20 September 2020  

HODs now runs for 10 days. In January Reading UK CIC invited RCS, the CAAC and other interested groups to meet to explore ideas for new HODs events. Much of this will be on hold at the moment pending the Conovirus. A walk of Coley (old and new) is planned for Friday 11 Sept and Sunday 20th September starting at 10 am at the bottom of Castle Hill (Led by Terry Dixon and RB). Further details will be announced in due course and booking will be via Eventbrite.

Talks

I have given talks to several groups about Reading Civic Society and the changes which face the centre of Reading as a result of the over 28 development proposals planned for the town centre:

  • 12 November to CADRA members “The Changing Face of Reading”. With Mark Worringham of RBC. Approximately 100 members.
  • 29 November to members of the Reading WEA 29 November “The Changing Face of Reading but focusing on the Prison site”. Approximately 25 members.
  • 14 January Visits Reading “Changing Face of Reading” Approx 80 members.
  • Upcoming:
  • 3 February Friends of Reading Museum
  • 18 June Caversham WI

Each of the Changing Faces talks are different as between each several new planning applications have come forward. If you know of any groups who would be interested in such a talk please let the Chair know.

Planning Updates.

  • Late last year we started a Planning Sub Committee which includes; Amanda Martin, Sean Duggan, Richard Stainthorp, Stephen Snook,  Terry Dixon,  and Alison and the Chair.  It meets on an ad hoc basis to consider  key planning applications as they come forward and agrees the Civic Society comments to be submitted. If we are able to generate an invitation it will meet developers/their agents as part of the Pre-Application process. Where appropriate we also invite members of Residents Associations / CAAC to take part in discussions.
  • Members of this group recently took part in discussions with developers & their agents about plans for; Dukesbridge House (Permitted Development Rights Offices to homes), 43/ 43 A London Street. In late January we met the team behind the Reading Station Park (a joint meeting with members of Caversham and District Residents Association and CAAC).   These early meetings to give us an early input into developments.
  • Planning Applications we have considered include;
    • Eaton Court  – 106-112 Oxford Road (demolition of DWP offices and building flats) – we met the developers & angents about an updated scheme.  Overall we thought the design and impact on the GII building on site was acceptable. The preponderance of single living units did not impress us nor did the lack of facilities for residents. We also did not agree with plans for “active frontages” (shops/ offices) on the ground floor in this position.
    • 191915 39 Brunswick Hill Conversion of the Edwardian house and a large extension. 9 flats. We have objected to two applications which proposed, arranged for the Victorian Society to object. A crazy to do this to the building. 7 objections from neighbours. It was agreed to object.
    • 191924 – 26-30 Swansea Road & 28-32 Northfield Road. Part of the Carters Site. The proposal will provide 9 new homes (the applicant is a Housing Association) and gardens and parking.  Low rise.  Loss of some old buildings which would be difficult to convert to achieve the same housing provision.  We agreed to support this application.  What will happen to the rest of the Carter’s site now the business has closed is of course a big question
    • 191860 45 Upper Redlands Road – 4 new large homes.  A resubmission, with significant changes, of an earlier application.  We supported the local residents last time when they were working out their approach to the proposals and will see what they make of this one. The Heritage Consultant has objected based on the adverse impact on the Conservation Area.
    • 191848 Greyfriars Church – Demolish Existing Church Centre & Construct New Three Storey Church Centre.  We agreed to support this application (supported by Historic England) but ask that a full Archaeological Survey is undertaken,  not just a desk top exercise.
    • 192059 Sapphire Plaza (Watlington Street)  formerly HRMC Offices. Application to convert to Residential use. Not impressive. We have yet to determine a view but the council has limited powers re PRD applications.
  • Large proposals:
    • 182137 Broad St Mall. Establishment of 3 tower blocks on top of Broad St Mall which will add  430 new homes.  We did not have a problem in principle with adding accommodation ontop of the Mall.  The questions are about design, adverse impact on the two neighbouring Conservation Areas, what will the development contribute to Reading?
    • Reading Station Hill Development Phase II (Offices)  – detailed Planning Application and Phase III (Residential –Build to Rent and Hotel) – Outline Planning. A public exhibition was held 31 Jan & 1 Feb and we encouraged members to attend. We have yet to form a view about this phase but overall the proposals for the site are welcomed. A readable analysis, with images, is provided by Reading on Thames Blog HERE and see below.
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Activities of other Groups for members’ interest:

The committee have agreed to share details of events run by other groups which may be of interest to members:

  • The  2020 programme of the History of Reading Society may be seen HERE   RCS members are welcome to these events.  The group meets in the Abbey Baptist Church, Abbey Square 7pm for a 7.30pm start
  • Berkshire Family History Society has events which include;  Caversham Court  a History 6 February, Nabobs of Berkshire (Part 2) 20 February, Pop Pirates 19630s  7March.  To book go to https://berksfhs.org/whats-on  The group meets 2nd Floor, Reading Central Library, 2-4 pm.  
  • Friends of Reading Abbey http://readingabbey.org.uk
  • Friends of Caversham Court http://home.fccg.org.uk
  • Friends of Reading Museum https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/explore/get-involved/friends-reading-museum
  • Watlington House Open Garden – The gardens were to open for the first time under the National Garden Scheme  – Yellow Book – on 5th July. This is now postponed until 2021. This would have been the only garden within a 3 mile radius of central Reading to be open under this scheme during  2020. 

Richard Bennett Chair 3 April 2020.