Planning committee refuses application to demolish Drews

Some good news about the Drews buildings – for now at least. On 7 October Reading Borough Council’s planning committee unanimously voted to refuse developer S2 Caversham’s application to demolish the main building and replace it with a seven-storey block of flats. This went against the planning officer’s recommendation, so is a significant win for us.

Speaking online at the committee, David Neale of Bell Tower said “You can’t replace heritage; once it’s gone, it’s gone”. Many of the committee agreed, and even those that were less concerned about heritage had reservations about the height of the proposed block and its implications for the area.

The buildings at 71-73 Caversham Road, Reading, home to Drews ironmongers for nearly 40 years, have a long and varied history. They were built in 1871, making them the oldest surviving buildings in the area between the railway and the River Thames. These were originally Henry Dowson’s malthouse complex, serving Simonds, Reading’s largest brewery and one of Reading’s most famous industries.

In 2020 the Bell Tower Community Association successfully applied to have the buildings locally listed. Although the buildings have been used for many purposes since the 19th century they retain many of their original features and have been deemed worthy or preservation by Reading Borough Council.

Although the planning committee has decided to refuse the application that doesn’t mean the buildings are safe as the developer will almost certainly appeal or try another application. Please sign our petition today to show how important these buildings are to the community. You can sign at www.change.org/p/reading-borough-council-save-the-historic-drews-building-from-demolition

Interested in the history of this site? Watch our documentary (the history of these buildings starts at 5:07).

Sign our petition to save the Drews building!

The buildings at 71-73 Caversham Road, Reading, home to Drews ironmongers for nearly 40 years, have a long and varied history. They were built in 1871, making them the oldest surviving buildings in the area between the railway and the River Thames. These were originally Henry Dowson’s malthouse complex, serving Simonds, Reading’s largest brewery and one of Reading’s most famous industries.

In 2020 the Bell Tower Community Association successfully applied to have the buildings locally listed. Although the buildings have been used for many purposes since the 19th century they retain many of their original features and have been deemed worthy or preservation by Reading Borough Council.

Site owner S2 Caversham has made a planning application to demolish the main buildings and replace them with a seven-storey block of flats, and the planning officers’ report recommends approval of the application. As well as destroying a valuable locally listed building, the development would create a block nearly twice as tall as any surrounding building and severely compromise the character of the low-rise Victorian housing nearby.

How could a council add a complex of buildings to its local list of heritage assets and less than a year later recommend demolition? We call upon Reading Borough Council to demonstrate its commitment to preserving the town’s valuable heritage by refusing the planning application.

URGENT – the last date for submissions is Friday 2 October 2020 so please sign this petition NOW! You can sign at www.change.org/p/reading-borough-council-save-the-historic-drews-building-from-demolition

Interested in the history of this site? Watch our documentary (the history of these buildings starts at 5:07).

Watch our heritage walk on video

The annual Heritage Open Days event is back. Last year we organised a guided walk around the streets of the area exploring our history and architecture, and we’re repeating this on 11 and 18 September. However, with the coronavirus pandemic we’ve had to limit numbers, and we realise that inevitably the walk will be fully booked in no time.

The good news is that we’ve made our walk virtual! You can watch our 20 minute documentary that follows the walk and explores some fascinating local history, scenes from the past and the area’s wealth of Victorian architectural features. We hope you enjoy it!

We hope this inspires you to dig out your old photos and tell us your stories of life in the area in the past – we’d love to see more pictures of scenes from the past and maybe even make another documentary next year. Please contact us at info@bell-tower.org.uk if you can help.

Join us for our Heritage Open Days walks

Our area has lots of fascinating history, and this year we are organising heritage walks around our area in September as part of Heritage Open Days. The walks will take place on two Friday mornings and will last about an hour.

Entitled ‘Caversham Road: An area shaped by Victorian aesthetics and innovation’, the walk will take in much of the area’s Victorian industry, showing signs of what remains and pictures of local scenes from the era. We’ll also be looking at some of the original Victorian architectural features that survive to this day.

Further details and booking at www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/caversham-road-an-area-shaped-by-victorian-aesthetics-and-innovation-tickets-64750256761. Please note that because of Covid-19 restrictions places will be strictly limited to 4 per walk so prior booking will be required.

These walks get booked up quickly. We are still keen to offer another opportunity to local people that were unable to get on to one of the Heritage Open Days walks – if you are interested please email info@bell-tower.org.uk.

We’ve also made the walk into a 20 minute documentary – you can watch this here:

Brewery applies to extend licensing hours

The Phantom Brewing Co. in Meadow Road has made an application to extend its licensing hours. The application is to extend its hours for selling alcohol as follows:
Wednesday-Thursday: 1700 to 2200
Friday: 1500 to 0000 (midnight)
Saturday: 1300 to 0000 (midnight)
Sunday: 1300 to 2000.

We believe that the premises are generally popular and well-managed, but residents may be concerned, in particular, about the application for an extension to midnight and the possible additional late night noise in quiet streets. If you have any comments on the application please address them to licensing@reading.gov.uk. The deadline for representations is 3 August 2020.

Updated proposals for post office site

Hermes, the company that owns the former post office site in Caversham Road next to the railway, has put in amended proposals for its outline planning application for redevelopment of the site. The tallest tower would be reduced by 9 metres and one storey, and there would be less residential accommodation and more office space.

The Bell Tower Community Association has always had serious concerns about the proposals for this site, and while a small decrease in height of the tallest tower is welcome (although we believe it is still too tall), in our view most of the updated proposals do not represent an improvement.

In particular we believe that the increase in office space will be unnecessary given the current trend of increased remote working, and the complete loss of affordable housing is to be deplored. It should also be borne in mind that planning permission is currently not needed to convert office space into residential units – so we can foresee conversion to low-quality accommodation with no contribution to local infrastructure when it is found that the office space is undesirable.

There will be a small increase in the number of 3-bedroom units, but one of the blocks will also lose communal outside space.

We are therefore going to be objecting to the proposals, and see little benefit to them. To view the amended plans and make comments please visit planning.reading.gov.uk/fastweb_PL/detail.asp?AltRef=182252. The deadline for comments is 30 July.

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