Reading: Urban Planning And Development For a zipped version of the html files, please click here.
Reading is a good example of a medium-sized urban area that has undergone significant changes in all of its major land-use zones, with more developments in the pipeline. Careful planning has been an essential element in this rapidly expanding urban area, located in one of the most dynamic economic regions in the country.
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small globe icon Location and status

Reading, in the county of Berkshire, is approximately 65 kilometres west of London (Figure 1). It is sited at the confluence of the rivers Thames and Kennet, occupying a key position in the Thames Valley. Over time, the town has expanded north onto the Chiltern Hills, whilst more recent growth to the south has brought it to the edge of the M4 motorway

Figure 1. Map showing Reading’s location and its access to motorways.

Figure 1.  Map showing Reading’s location and its access to motorways.

Reading is officially a town rather than a city, although Reading Borough Council and leading businesses are eager to upgrade its status. Occasionally, the government invites applications from large towns for city status. Reading just lost out in the millennium contest to Brighton in the quest to become a city.

Once famous for beer, biscuits, bacon and seed production, Reading is now one of the UK’s major ICT centres, with Microsoft, Digital, Hewlett Packard and Oracle all having large offices in or near the town. However, other major industries are also present in Reading (Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2.   List of major employers and locations in Reading.

City centre:

Agricultural Intervention Board Associates




Ernst & Young

Global Crossing

Hogg Robinson

Inland Revenue

John Lewis


Nabbaro Nathanson



Prudential Assurance

Reading Borough Council

Thames Water


Thames Valley (M4 J10):

BG Group (HQ)



JD Edwards

Microsoft (HQ)

Oracle (HQ)


Suttons Business Park (M4 J10):

Axiom Systems

Jacobs Gibb

Rockwell Collins

Green Park (M4 J10):

Cisco Systems (HQ)



Winnersh Triangle (M4 J10):

3 Com

Agilent Technology

Bang & Olufsen

Computer Associates



Harris Systems

Hewlett Packard



Mars Electronics



Sage Software

Symbol Technologies

Reading International Business Park (M4 J10):

Worldcom (HQ)

Arlington Business Park (M4 J10):

Arlington Securities


Danka UK

English China Clays





NSB Retail

Royal Bank of Scotland

Silicon Graphics

Thorn UK

Vodaphone AirTouch

Walker Snackfoods

Wolseley Plc

Out of town:

BBC Monitoring


Direct Wines

FI Group

Foster Wheeler



Scottish Courage Brewing

University of Reading

Source: Development and Investment Review 2002 (Reading Borough Council)

Figure 3.   Reading – Business and development locations.

City Centre

Out of City Centre

Abbey Mill House

Cadogan House

Oracle Shopping Centre

Manor Farm

ABC Cinema Site

Battle Hospital

Chatham Street

ARS Site


The Manor, Shinfield

Thames Tower

Shinfield Park, Shinfield

Friars Walk


Gt Western House


Absolute Reading


Forbury Square


Market Way


Energis House


The Meridien


British Rail Station


Bear Wharf


Source: Reading Development and Investment Review 2002, Reading Borough Council, Nov 2002.

According to Alan Willets, National Chairman of the English Regional Development Agencies, ‘It appears to me that there are principally two main economic drivers of wealth creation in the UK: the City of London and the Thames Valley. Reading is undoubtedly a magnet for business in the sub-region and therefore the country as a whole.’

small globe icon Reading Fact File:

small globe icon Sustainable development and urban renaissance

The planning system has a key role to play in implementing the government’s Strategy for Sustainable Development objective. The strategy revolves around four broad aims:

Urban renaissance is a common theme running through strategic planning at all levels in the UK. It is about:

Reading Borough Council has openly stated its commitment to these principles and has played a major role in the developments, which are discussed below.

Figure 4. Broad Street pedestrian precinct.

Figure 4. Broad Street pedestrian precinct.

small globe icon Regeneration of the central business district

While the central business district (CBD) has constantly evolved over time, major recent changes began in 1969 with the opening of the Inner Distribution Road (IDR). The IDR was to act as an inner ring road, taking through-traffic away from the centre of the town. However, the scheme was never fully completed and, while the traffic system was improved, congestion remains a significant problem.

Pedestrianisation of the main shopping streets was the next objective. In 1970, any non-essential traffic was banned from Broad Street, and in the 1990s Friar Street was pedestrianised. While this improved the popularity of the CBD, the lack of a large indoor shopping centre put Reading at a competitive disadvantage compared to other towns of a similar size. At the time, Reading Borough Council considered the town to be ‘undershopped, with a lack of suitable sites providing little appeal for retailers’. As a result, a decision was made to build the Oracle Shopping Centre in 1997, which incorporated both redevelopment and renewal. A considerable section of the former CBD, including the old bus garage, had to be demolished to make way for the new development.

Figure 5. Broad Street entrance to the Oracle Shopping Centre.

Figure 5. Broad Street entrance to the Oracle Shopping Centre

Opened in September 1999 on a former semi-derelict brownfield site along the River Kennet in the centre of Reading, the 0.9km2 site increased Reading’s total retail offer by a third. The £200 million, 0.07km2 development straddling the River Kennet is a mix of retail, leisure and residential land use. The main entrance opens out onto Broad Street, the principal outdoor street in the CBD (Figure 5). The scheme has opened up a previously inaccessible stretch of the river and reconnected public bridleways on both banks. It incorporates three new bridges—two pedestrian and one vehicular. The Oracle comprises over 90 shops. Along the riverside, the outdoor section of the development, are 22 restaurants, cafés and bars and a ten-screen cinema. There are a further ten restaurants, cafés and bars in the Malls. The original objective that the Oracle should become an extension of the central retail area rather than a competitor seems to have worked. The Oracle has undoubtedly attracted some retailers who would not otherwise have located in Reading. Around 3,500 people work in the Mall and its shops. In 2004, the Waterways Trust awarded the site a Waterways Renaissance Award for the riverside part of the development (Figure 6).

Figure 6. The Riverside and adjacent multi-storey car parking.

Figure 6. The Riverside and adjacent multistorey car parking.

With the completion of the Oracle, Reading began to refurbish the rest of the CBD to bring its appearance into line with that of the Oracle. For example, Reading’s other major shopping centre, Broad Street Mall, has recently undergone a major refurbishment that has extended its retail area.

Reading is now the top-ranked shopping centre in southern England, outside Central London (Management Horizons Europe, 2001). The city has a retail catchment population exceeding 1.7 million, and some 22 million shoppers visited during 2001.

The development has also included innovative housing projects creating new affordable homes in empty spaces above shops and offices. These are located alongside high-price prestige apartments, both benefiting from the range of advantages provided by town-centre living (Figure 7).

Figure 7. New residential development within the CBD.

Figure 7. New residential development within the CBD.

Reading City Centre Management (RCCM) is a public/private partnership concerned with the strategic development of central Reading. Its main areas of concern are urban regeneration, inward investment and the physical development and expansion of central Reading. Along with a number of interested parties, the RCCM has developed a strategy and action plan for the next five years entitled Reading City Centre 2010.

small globe icon Change in the inner urban area

Recent changes

What is now the inner city of Reading, located just outside the CBD, was largely the result of urban expansion during the industrial revolution and the Victorian era. The legacy of this period is found in the Regency town houses in central Reading and Castle Hill to the west and in the working-class Victorian terraces (mainly two-bedroom houses) in both east and west Reading. Most inner-area housing was constructed between 1850 and 1914 (Figure 8). Some light industry and small workshops remain within the grid-iron pattern of terraced housing.

Figure 8. Inner-city terraced housing.

Figure 8. Inner-city terraced housing.

In the late 1960s, the construction required for the Inner Distribution Road involved the demolition of terraced housing and some derelict factories in the inner city. The scheme also offered some opportunity for redevelopment on parcels of land that were purchased but not required for the road itself. More recently, a key opportunity for redevelopment within the inner area has been on the former site of Reading Football Club at Elm Park, which was given over almost entirely to new housing. The football club was relocated to a site on the edge of Reading that could offer the space required for a modern development, as well as much better access from areas outside Reading.

Gentrification has been active in the inner areas with the greatest potential in terms of size of house and quality of the local environment. The evidence is in the quality of maintenance compared with more run-down areas within this zone. Higher property prices also reflect the internal and external improvements carried out.

Imminent redevelopment

This will be most intensive in areas adjoining the CBD. The following areas have been identified for regeneration.

Figure 9. Part of the Chatham Street site.

Figure 9. Part of the Chatham Street site.

Figure 10. Multi-modal interchange.

Figure 10. Multi-modal interchange.
Source: Reading

small globe icon Change in the outer urban area

The outer area of Reading, has changed dramatically in the last decade, particularly to the south between the original outskirts of Reading and the M4 motorway (Figure 11). The area was previously dominated by landfill sites and old gravel pits. The only significant building was the Courage Brewery close to the M4.

The opening of the new A33, linking Junction 11 of the M4 with the centre of Reading, has transformed this part of the borough and taken pressure off the Basingstoke Road, B3031. It has also enabled the construction of the Madejski Stadium, Green Park and Reading International Business Centre. However, the new road has also exposed some now highly visible sites that are in urgent need of regeneration. Thus, the Council revised its South-West Reading Development Brief in 2000. These proposals include:

The Madejski Stadium Project

With redevelopment of the long-standing Elm Park ground not feasible because of its small size and hemmed-in inner area location, Reading Borough Council made available a landfill site on the outskirts of Reading. The 0.3km2 site provided excellent access from Junction 11 of the M4 and central Reading, but there were significant challenges in terms of land remediation as the site was up to nine metres deep in land-fill refuse. This was a major cost factor in developing the site.

The high cost of development and the requirement from the Council that it should be a community anchored site meant that the project would need a number of other elements apart from the stadium itself. Initially, the location of the site enabled the raising of £21 million in finance by selling 0.07km2 (after site remediation) for a large retail park (Reading Gate). However, Reading Football Club also needed to enhance their permanent revenue stream by:

Figure 11. Reading southern approach: An urban design framework.

Figure 11. Reading southern approach: An urban design framework.
Source: Reading

The football club’s community role was fulfilled by:

Site preparation began in June 1997 and the stadium was inaugurated in August 1998 with a capacity of 24,200 seats (Figure 12).

Figure 12. The Madejski Stadium.

Figure 12. The Madejski Stadium.

Reading International Business Park

This development occupies a key location by Junction 11 of the M4. The £46 million project began on site in April 1999 (Figure 13). On completion, WorldCom occupied the site in its entirety and made it their European HQ. It provides 0.04km2 of office space with 1,290 car parking spaces.

Figure 13. Reading Gate Retail Park.

Figure 13. Reading Gate Retail Park.

Green Park

Green Park lies to the south and west of the Madejski Stadium complex, stretching along the M4 for nearly a mile, from Junction 11. This is a 0.73km2 site with planning permission for 0.21km2 of high-quality business space. The office complexes are on either side of a 1.2 kilometre lake (Figure 14). It is being developed over a ten-year period and will eventually accommodate a workforce of over 7,000 people. Construction started on the first buildings in 1998. When complete, Green Park will be one of the largest business parks in Britain.

In the longer term, the owners, Prudential, wish to extend Green Park westwards, beyond the current settlement boundary, up to the Basingstoke railway line. Their initial proposals include an additional 0.09km2 of business space, a new rail station and transport interchange, and a mixed-use centre providing residential, local services and facilities, and including a sub-regional Technology Institute.

Figure 14. One of the new office complexes in Green Park.

Figure 14. One of the new office complexes in Green Park.

Reading Gateway

This is the area between the three locations above and the inner area of Reading. Current proposals for the northern part of the area include a waste-treatment facility, and a new sewage treatment works to the west of the A33. Reading Gateway, a mixed scheme of at least 850 homes, business space and a hotel on the existing sewage treatment works at Manor Farm Road, together with the redevelopment of the greyhound stadium site for about 0.07km2 of business space, is proposed to line the approach into Reading. A replacement greyhound stadium is proposed on land to the north of Island Road. Further residential development on adjoining sites is also proposed.

Kennet Valley Park

The Kennet Valley Park scheme is being proposed by Prudential. The proposal combines the regeneration of land to the southwest of Reading to provide homes, leisure and community facilities with the creation of a country park for public use. Between 2011 and 2016, around 2,000 homes could be built, followed by a further 5,500 homes in the next two decades. About a fifth of the 9.1km2 site would be developed, while the rest would stay as meadows, woodland and open water. The company argues that the scheme would make a significant contribution towards meeting future housing needs in the central Berkshire area.

small globe icon Other planning strategies

Alongside the major developments described above, regeneration will continue in:

Figure 15. Draft Spatial Strategy for Reading.

Figure 15. Draft Spatial Strategy for Reading.
ource: Reading Borough Council.

small globe icon Conclusion

Regeneration in the central area and commercial development in southwest Reading are the main priorities for the Council. In particular, any future extension of Green Park will need to be carefully assessed and managed to ensure that it is complementary and does not prejudice investment in the centre, which remains the most sustainable location for this type of development. The Council considers the redevelopment of Reading Gateway to be the top priority for southwest Reading.

In 1999, the Council published its holistic vision for Reading City 2020. The vision is of a city and capital of the Thames Valley that will provide the highest-quality range of retail, leisure, educational, cultural and sporting facilities.

Figure 16. Detached suburban housing in west Reading.

Figure 16. Detached suburban housing in west Reading.