The starting point for discussion was that there is a real danger that Reading is a polarised city—almost a ‘tale of two cities’ with (i) an affluent and skilled professional labour force and (ii) an unskilled, or semi-skilled labour force with housing access issues. Within a smart and sustainable vision for Reading by 2050 there should be a strong focus on promoting and achieving equality of opportunity across Reading.
The groups both agreed that a smart and sustainable Reading will therefore tackle this inequality through improved housing provision. Community cohesion must be promoted through better support networks, better childcare near the home and the workplace. There should be a strong focus on food production with a fourfold increase in community farms and allotments.
A smart and sustainable Reading will have high quality cycle routes and lanes and this will be linked with a drive to promote health and wellbeing and a key aspiration should be to increase sustainable mobility across the city. Public transport improvements will be important and Reading will have an inexpensive light rail system, free buses and more park and rides.
Innovative designs will make much better use of the river frontage with floating houses and houseboats. Brownfield land development will be maximised, and Reading’s compact nature will be a key part of the future vision.
All solid walls in Reading’s ageing housing stock will be insulated by 2050 and Reading will be a leading exemplar of low energy living. There will be a strong focus on sharing business space and there will be a long ‘green wall’ or ‘green curtain’ for the IDR.
Energy use and water use would be reduced, and waste recycling increased by rolling out smart technologies and driving behaviour changes across the city. Digital technologies will help shape work-life balance and provide for increased homeworking so that commuting is reduced.
There will be more mixed use parks mixing business with leisure, meeting space and recreation and there will be opportunities to develop this space along the river and elsewhere in the city.
There will be a Reading Centre for Sustainable Living established which will highlight sustainable living and link with the University of Reading’s strong focus on sustainability research, education and know ledge transfer around low carbon innovation and enterprise. Reading will be an exemplar of low carbon living within the wider Thames Valley, building on its high tech industry and environmental technology expertise.
In terms of creating a smart and sustainable Reading, the groups felt it was important to think about the historic legacy of a place and how its location can be underpin its future development. Overcoming the constraints imposed by boundaries in the four local authorities which overlay Reading is an important starting point as its local geography. Currently Reading lacks ‘personality’ and needs another dimension to re-invigorate and re-energise its place in the wider south east region, and globally.
Reading needs to be understood as a place which has a ‘transient’ nature—there are people who move to Reading for work and then leave as they become more affluent and there are other groups who have lived in Reading for more than two generations. Currently Reading does not have the same quality of cultural facilities as Basingstoke, for example, but has a better retail offer. Reading needs to improve both its ‘stickability’ and ‘liveability’.
Reading has avoided embracing its river frontages. With smart and sustainable design solutions Reading could make better use of retail/ leisure and allied uses (including green infrastructure) in the riverside areas, and should build on its strong historic heritage to develop a more people-focused personality. This also entails considering the diverse mix of cultures and communities within Reading. For example, in 2010, it was reported that Reading has 150 different spoken languages within its population. Huwaei’s recent location of its UK headquarters at Reading Green Park was based partly on the high degree of integration of Chinese speakers in Reading’s population.
Both groups also felt that transport is also a major issue in Reading, with much of the transport system focused directly on the centre. Because of the large number of commuters coming into Reading, many of the carbon emissions from transport have been ‘offshored’ but this should not prevent a radical re-think of Reading’s transport infrastructure. Transport will need to be more distributed by 2050 and cycle routes needs further encouragement with additional mass transit corridors linking transport hubs, town centre and green spaces to reduce car usage and focus on more sustainable forms of transport. We also need to think carefully about the mix of land uses that are needed. For example, do we need more traditional office space buildings when the current trend is towards SME-friendly coffee-shop style collaborative workspaces?
More efficient public transport must be part of a wider move towards a low carbon future (which should be a ‘given’) by 2050, with a strong emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the city. This would also mean that Reading would become more attractive to inward investment (perhaps playing out to a broader appeal as a fair-trade, ethical city, but educating people and reminding people how their positive actions are part of a low carbon Reading would be vital to achieve.
There also needs to be a strong focus on the ability of Reading to generate its own power supply through distributed renewable networks. This requires buy in from a range of key stakeholders as well as innovative financing techniques. Balancing employment opportunities, and building on the role of the University of Reading and its focus on the knowledge economy, will be vital to underpinning a successful transition to a smart and sustainable Reading by 2050.
The groups both felt that Reading’s ‘USP’ is based around its waterways location and its national/ international connectivity. When thinking about Reading’s future, the development of a better and more sustainable transport system, providing better affordable housing, and building on Reading’s reputation as a centre for IT innovation and enterprise, alongside its strengths in insurance and professional services is important. This means developing an entrepreneurship ‘pull’ for Reading as an alternative to London.
A smart and sustainable Reading will need to have an integrated masterplan for the city, and decision-making will need to cross Local Authority boundaries. This means that Reading needs to have city status and that should be focused on ‘Greater Reading’.
Both groups agreed that attracting younger people to live and stay in Reading must be a key focus and developing the right mix of housing across the city will be important to prevent transience. To retain its competitive edge Reading will also need to attract low carbon and green technology companies to locate there. Brownfield land will present development opportunities and opportunities for densification to maintain Reading’ compact form, but also looking to how greenfield land can benefit Reading in becoming a more liveable city.
In many ways business parks have become disconnected from the city, and improved transport needs to reconnect these areas. There needs to be a much better network of buses and perhaps a new underground or tram system. Reading should seriously consider a third bridge crossing, but reduce its car dependence. Much more needs to be done to connect the new railway station with the rest of the town centre. By 2050 there will be a new business and mixed use hub with buzz, linking the station to the rejuvenated central area.
The future vision for Reading (which will include a masterplan) needs to encompass Greater Reading and needs to develop a sense that Reading can be beautiful, connected ad green. It should link it high tech character with a low carbon future and should be a resilient city that can adapt to climate change.
Reading’s lack of character and lack of ‘soul’ is a real issue. A smart and sustainable Reading needs to be a place with a clear identity and character; open for business with a ‘can-do’ attitude; be able to attract investment; be a great location and build on its transport links; create a diverse economy; and be dynamic and future proof.