When the term ‘environmental catastrophe’ is used, it’s usually a dire prediction.
However, on this occasion, Cllr Tony Page used the term in our conversation about the Minster Quarter regeneration, with reference to a 1960s road network that has provided more debate than almost any development since.
In an era when the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway was abandoned for basically being a road, it would be quite unimaginable for someone to propose Reading’s Inner Distribution Road (IDR) now.
Old photos reveal how densely populated areas of Coley were directly linked to the town centre before this radical inner ring road was dreamed up by the experts of the time.
The original plan even involved taking a slice off the Forbury Gardens which would have meant repositioning the Forbury Lion. Sunbathing on a Summer’s day at the Forbury would have been a little less tranquil with four lanes of both the local and the through traffic passing next to you.
Cllr Page said the IDR was ‘not even cut and cover, it was just cut’. And if you stand on the footpaths around the roundabouts you can get an idea of what a loss of public and residential space it created.
So the decking over is hugely significant. New public realm on space that effectively doesn’t exist at the moment, less traffic noise and direct, and possibly quite pleasant, access to the town centre for many people, cut off from it all those years ago.
Although, by the time it happens, anyone still around from pre-1960s Reading may be less able to walk the new route and, somewhat ironically, might be in more need of a car.
It’s a great shame that the original plan to deck it over became a casualty of local politics of the 1990s.
But the real damage was surely done by those experts, transfixed on accommodating the increasing car use, who set out to solve one problem to the exclusion of all others.
One hesitates to delve too deeply into current day politics but the IDR could almost be a lesson for modern times.
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