Reading’s Bristol & West Arcade has inadvertently come to illustrate some of the difficulties changing market conditions can pose to development.
A mix of uses, which would appear to have helped it cope with various market changes, was approved last year but the site was already for sale with possible hotel options being considered before the year end.
Even so, who could have predicted the decline in demand for office space combined with the speed at which retail’s decline has accelerated, since then?
Now a hotel, while possibly not being the favoured choice of locals, appears a relatively safe bet, assuming we reach normality in the world at some point soon.
The site has a traumatic history. It was where a war time bomb killed 41 people in 1943.
Although always a secondary retail area, the rebuilt shops were part of a thriving town for many years. But when The Oracle opened in 1999, it became firmly out of favour for retailers and bars and pubs took over.
And, during the last recession, a redevelopment, including several new retail units, was under way there when the builders abandoned the scheme. It has been an eyesore since.
But if the latest proposal maintains the public thoroughfare through the site, helps address the longstanding hotel shortage and offers a decent bar and restaurant, it could now begin to improve a part of town that has suffered for years.
That could be good news in very difficult times.
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