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Reading: Urban Planning And Development

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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 iconLocation 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.

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.

Figure 3 - Reading – Business and development locations.

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 iconReading Fact File:

  • Reading Borough has a population of 143,200 (Census, 2001) and a population density of 3,570 per km2.
  • It is estimated that 275,000 people live within a twenty-minute drive of Reading town centre.
  • Ten per cent of the population are from ethnic-minority communities.
  • At 1.7 per cent, the unemployment rate is very low.
  • Although as a whole Reading is an affluent town, two of its wards are considered relatively deprived in national comparisons.
  • The housing market is buoyant, with price rises well above the national average.
  • The completion of the Oracle Shopping Centre has increased Reading’s retail ranking from sixteenth in 1998 to eighth in 2001.
  • Reading is the second biggest interchange station on the UK rail network with direct services to 360 towns and cities nationally.
  • Reading sees itself as the capital of the Thames Valley.
  • Reading was the sixteenth most profitable business location in the country in 2000 according to Experian.
  • Reading is ranked equal eighth in the UK (with Newcastle-upon-Tyne) in terms of the value of commercial property investment.
  • The RG Postcode has the fifth-highest average household income in the UK, at £34,300 (CACI 2002).

small globe iconSustainable 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:

  • Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.
  • Social progress that recognizes the needs of everyone.
  • Effective protection of the environment.
  • Prudent use of natural resources.

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

  • Creating a high quality of life in urban areas.
  • More sustainable living, such as putting people close to services and facilities to reduce traffic and the need to travel by car.
  • Maintaining and creating attractive living environments.
  • Social wellbeing, housing and jobs for all sectors of the community that need them.
  • Having a good transport system, promoting good urban design, and meeting community needs.

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


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