A developing vision for Reading UK 2050

A major urban area such as Reading faces key challenges in its future. Although it is not yet officially a ‘city’, Reading, as part of a wider Reading/Wokingham urban area, has a current population of 318,000 (2011), and this is set to grow to 362,400 by 2037.

The Reading of today is also very different from the Reading of 40 years ago. The ‘beer, The Blade Reading_web.JPGbiscuits and bulbs’ (and ‘bricks’) for which Reading was rightly famous have long since gone, and today, Reading’s economy, which is highly connected nationally and internationally and is one of the strongest in the UK, is based on high tech industry, innovation and inward investment.

However, vibrant economic activity and a growing population come at a price, and that price is reflected not only in greenhouse gas emissions, but also in outdated and congested infrastructure, pockets of deprivation, and a sense that Reading could, and should, be a more liveable place.

For example, Reading’s success as a busy commercial centre is reflected in the fact that nearly half of its carbon footprint comes from its commercial activities, but Reading also has a large number of older pre-1919 terraced houses4, which are often poorly insulated and inefficient in energy terms, and many of which will still be standing in 2050. Reading’s new City Deal also makes it clear how important it is to tackle the issues of deprivation and joblessness, especially amongst young people.

It is this historic legacy and infrastructure lock-in that often makes it difficult to re-engineer or retrofit an urban area like Reading in order to adapt and mitigate for the effects of climate change. Indeed the recent floods in Reading, arising from its location straddling the Thames, brought the issue of flood prevention and adaptation into sharp focus in the town.

Changing business and peoples’ behaviour in order to tackle these issues is a complex task, and will require strategic thinking, new partnerships and even new forms of governance and institutional structures in order for us to succeed. This has been recognised in some of the reports which have focused on futures thinking in Reading over the last 10 years. In 1998, Reading Borough Council published its Reading City 2020 which saw Reading as a ‘continental-type city with squares and plazas and open spaces’. Reading Local Strategic Partnership’s Reading City 2030 (2011) also attempted to scope out the sort of place Reading should be in the future. More recently, in 2013, Reading Climate Change Partnership published Reading Means Business on Climate Change, a climate change strategy for 2013-2020, that aims to reduce the carbon footprint of the borough in 2020 by 34%, compared to 2005 levels (see Appendix 1), and also suggests that ‘low carbon living will be the norm in 2050’. Finally, in 2013, Barton Willmore produced a report following its young property professionals workshop series, entitled Reading 2050, which set out some of the key development and growth areas that Reading might exploit through to 2050.

Despite this, we do not yet have a clear sense of how Reading should evolve through to 2050, either to fulfil a shared aspiration, or to paint a picture of the sort of place Reading could and should be. Developing a Reading UK 2050 vision today is therefore very important because:

  • We need a better understanding of what a low carbon future would look like for Reading.
  • Creating a clear vision would help attract further inward investment and would help Reading retain and enhance its competitive edge.
  • There is a real opportunity to harness Reading’s economic growth potential in alliance with a focus on sustainable and low carbon living.
  • Reading could act as an exemplar for ‘future city’ thinking in the wider Thames Valley Berkshire Local Economic Partnership
  • There is an increasing number of partnership funding opportunities at city level in the UK and internationally around a ‘future cities’ agenda.

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