It’s getting on for four years since Drews the Ironmongers announced it was to close after 87 years in business in Reading – but what has been achieved?

The grim, malthouse building proved to offer little use to man or beast when S2 Estates tried to let it following the refusal of its plans for 44 flats.

Now it has been largely retained in the new 29-flat proposal including ground floor retail, which is a mix of old and new.

But why did the heritage aspect suddenly become such an issue that Reading Borough Council would locally list it while S2 was trying to get permission to regenerate the site? The reason the site became available is that it could not sustain the retailer which had used it for 40+ years. Should that changing market not have been taken into account?

In the internet era it’s going to take some imagination to find a retail use on a noisy road known for its passing traffic rather than any passing footfall.

Similarly, when Thackeray Estates announced its plans for a hotel in Friar Street into which it had carefully incorporated the shell of the former Bugle public house, the council once again, sprung to action to put a spanner in those works by locally listing this unattractive pub.

The Drews building has long been an ugly, patched up half-measure of a conversion, where little attempt was made to make it look nice. Like ironmongery itself, its main purpose was to perform a task, not to look pretty. It performed that task admirably. And it certainly didn’t look pretty.

Now it is well and truly at the end of its useful life but its little-known and barely-appreciated history has to be key to any new scheme.

In the 1980s, British Rail’s signal & telecommunications workshops stood opposite the Drews site. Every trace of that sprawling site was wiped away for the Royal Mail sorting offices and Reading Station Shopping Park developments which are now earmarked for redevelopment again.

The railway works was another grim old site with little architectural merit. It’s just as well local listing wasn’t a thing in that era or it might still be there.

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