If you mention gentrification of an area people seem to recoil in horror but there appears to be a welcome improvement going on in Friar Street in Reading.

Thackeray Estates’ plans for a courtyard, shops, apart-hotel, a Jury’s Inn and upgrades to listed buildings is one of the most positive developments in Reading town centre for years.

For once a developer has used imagination to create something unusual, rather than tried to squeeze the maximum number of flats into a town centre scheme. The result is not only something new but something that will make The Bugle public house a feature of a development rather than the bleak, run down pub it has been for decades.

Even going back to the 60s and 70s, Friar Street was very much the secondary shopping area in town but still managed to stay reasonably intact until the late 1990s when The Oracle opened and sucked all the retail life out of it.

Pubs began to proliferate after that and, on a hot Summer evening, police would be kept busy by mobs of unruly drinkers.

As that reputation has faded, new schemes look set to bring a very different feel to Friar Street.

Mountley Group’s plans for the Bristol & West Arcade may be less ambitious than the increasing number of abortive schemes there but that site is getting to the point where anything is better than nothing.

Meanwhile Shaviram plans 103 flats and retail and co-working space on the site of an office/retail building on the north side in which the Cosmo restaurant will move out and then move back in to the new building.

Right next to that site, the 600 Station Hill flats are racing ahead. Further down the pipeline, AEW’s ownership of a chunk of buildings between Broad Street and Friar Street, emerging in the latter, somewhere near Sub 89, suggests another improvement to a run down part of town.

AEW also owns the block of buildings in which Pitcher & Piano sits on the corner of Station Road and has previously talked of development potential there.

Those who remember the days when Littlewoods, Woolworth and WH Smith all had entrances onto both Broad Street and Friar Street, allowing you to walk through their stores, rather than experience Smelly Alley (Union Street), might lament the current changes but it’s a minor miracle that Friar Street, which suffered a retail revolution 20 years before Covid, could now have an attractive, mixed-use future.

Gentrification might not be popular but if the alternative is dereliction and crime, then Friar Street might become a lesson in the benefits of regeneration.

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