Could Sky-High Aims Bring Reading Down?

| by Ben P

One of the buildings in CNM Estates' Verto developments | © Reading School

On February 6th, 2019, Berkeley Developments started to tear down the old Homebase and Toys R Us in Forbury Retail Park, Reading, to turn it into a housing estate. Homebase and Toys R Us are some of the many buildings being knocked down in the area to make way for new high-rise flats, but could reaching for the sky also have a negative effect that brings the people of Reading down?

As of, since the year 2000, the population of Reading has increased by 43,253 people. The population of Reading continues to increase so more residencies are needed to give people the shelter and safety they need. The Government has a target to build 300,000 new homes nationally each year which must be met.

However, not only do people need housing, they need access to healthcare services, local clubs and groups, green areas, play parks and schools, so the new units being built will bring much more to Reading than might initially meet the eye.

A source who has worked on Environment and Energy Efficiency Policies has told us that lots of people living in the same place can prove more efficient because more people in one place don’t require as many resources per person. One example is heating; many people being close together makes providing heating much more cost and energy efficient. This was emphasied by Chris Tinker, the Chairman of Major Projects and Strategic Partnerships of Crest Nicholson who confirmed that efficiencies in the building process itself are maximized when building high-rise flats and that this form of build was often pushed for by councils who wanted to make the best use of available land, in order to meet their housing needs. “Bungalows,” he said “hardly ever get built these days as they are simply too land hungry.”

There are certainly other benefits to the house building programs on Reading’s doorstep which laudably involves taking rundown and wasteland areas and turning them into something improved and usable by people. Chris Tinker confirmed that the Common Infrastructure Levy (CIL), which is when a charge is made to the developer to help deliver additional benefits that “serve the common need of the local area,” will usually apply, for example new or improved roads, paths and street lighting.

A Section 106 agreement might also have been agreed between the planning authority and the developer in order to reduce the impact of the new build on the community. Chris Tinker confirmed that for every 800 – 1000 houses built a new primary school will also be needed. In a recent 2,000 house development undertaken by Crest in Arborfield Green, Berkshire, one of the first things to do, was to build a £34m Secondary School. This expansion could bring some unfavorable aspects as well though. To serve the common need of the local area, more is required elsewhere, not least in the services provided by the NHS.

When asked about the effect of population increases, a source from the Community NHS trust said, “Initially, with a growth in population e.g. if a new block of flats is built, the NHS copes with it until a certain point when it can’t cope anymore, when more money will need to be found. So, there is pressure until that point”. Planning ahead is vital for the NHS, and we’re told that the NHS commissioners “try to be as proactive as possible and plan for the future as much as they can, so the pressure is not piled on all at once” but they mostly need to be reactive and look at the situation to “react in the best way and making the best of it”.

A similar story is found at Greyfriars Church in the center of Reading, who find themselves having to adapt in order to meet the needs of the growing community. Heather Harper, the Childrens’ Worker, thinks that they are definitely seeing the effects of the housing and commented that “more people are now coming to the church which has a knock-on effect on what we do. Normally we provided two Christmas Carol services but in the past two years we have had to run three. We’ve sadly had to shut the door at the mid-week toddler group meeting as more people want to come, so we’ve had to turn people away when the maximum capacity for safety is reached. And parking spaces have now been restricted to elderly people, vulnerable people and people with limited access only”.

The Church is aware that more of its surrounding area will be turned into housing and in response are planning a redevelopment of its site in order to “look after and respond to people’s needs, with more space for chatting, catching up and for community use. More space for flexible offices. More open and welcoming”.

A source from Environment and Energy Efficiency Policies has also seen the effect on the environment, where they commented that lots of people in the same place generates a definite increase in waste and traffic emissions causing undesirable air pollution.

They acknowledge that building can be “globally efficient but it can also be impactful”. When asked about the importance of green spaces in Reading and London they were able to tell us that “green spaces are very important. They are needed to help air quality because there is no traffic in these areas, provide habitats for animals and wildlife and for communities to exercise, play and to spend time with each other.”

It’s certainly easy to see the significance that housing has, both for the current residents and the incoming residents, but any benefit could easily be derailed if the services like transport, waste disposal and healthcare systems needed to assist the people living in the town do not work or cannot support the numbers. If people can’t get healthcare when they need it, educate their children in good local schools, get their waste removed and have open spaces to run around in, it is not going to be a place people want to be.

So, Reading needs to plan carefully and take action to respond to all the needs of its growing population, to keep it an attractive place to live and work and make sure its success doesn’t become its downfall.