Following news of abrdn’s proposals for 900 flats at Reading’s Forbury Retail Park, Mike Shearn, chief operating officer for Haslams Estate Agent, sees the benefits – and asks if 900 is enough.

Reading Borough Council is under a huge amount of pressure to deliver thousands of new homes over the next decade.

The problem it has is that Reading is predominantly an urban area and consequently – whether people like it or not – most of these new homes will have to be in the form of apartments.

That said, Reading has a relatively young, affluent and growing population and so there continues to be a huge market for apartments and the redevelopment of the Forbury Retail Park, including 900 new apartments, should therefore be welcomed by many.

There will undoubtedly be objections to any planning application. Many detractors will focus on the adverse impact on traffic, parking, schools, and hospitals but if we need more homes – which is accepted – then there will always be consequences on infrastructure.

Apartments always seem to get a worse rub than houses but they are critical if we are to deliver the new homes required in Reading. Coupled with this, Reading just hasn’t got the huge open spaces needed for house building and so we need to accept and embrace apartments.

Whilst a lot of any infrastructure impact will be addressed through significant S106 and CIL financial contributions, it needs to be appreciated that apartments are actually very efficient use of land and they can be great places for people to live.

By way of example, apartments blocks actually have relatively less impact on the environment than housing as many residents in town centre schemes don’t own cars as they use public transport and/or car sharing schemes.

The questions for me are threefold.

Firstly, given the need for new homes, is 900 units enough? Should the council press for more and drop its restrictions on building heights?

Secondly, a mixed-use scheme is welcome but the tenure of residential units will be important. At the moment, and for the next few years, there will be hardly any new build apartments for sale in the town centre (everything that is being built is Build-to-Rent) so this market is under-supplied and so there’s a huge opportunity to exploit.

Finally, placemaking and masterplanning will be critical. How will this scheme weave seamlessly together with its surroundings (including Reading Gaol) and become an engaging place for people to work, rest and play?

If these three questions can be addressed then I’m sure the redevelopment of Forbury Retail Park will be hugely positive for Reading and its population.

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