6 Jun 2022

A city by most measures

All over the capital city, I am seeing the name of Reading up in lights as the western terminus of the new Elizabeth Line. Reading – a place with its own identity but also even better connected to the City of London than ever, as well as the rest of the UK and the world economy via twenty-first century transport infrastructure.

R Gallery - Aerial View of Reading Blade, Abbey Ruins and NW-1

We are one of the most vibrant and economically significant urban centres in the country. Capable of re-inventing ourselves through the ages - we have done so in the last 50 years as a centre of knowledge-intensive businesses, and as we are doing again, looming towards becoming a smart and sustainable City by 2050.

I use the term ‘City’ advisably, because although we were not successful in the latest round of political announcements, Reading does meet many people’s criteria for a modern city. A few years ago, Robert Bevan wrote in The Guardian; “Today, the UK's official criteria for what constitutes a city remain opaque, but those put in place in 1907 remain a good rule of thumb: home to at least 300,000 residents, a distinct identity that is the centre of a wider area, and a good record of local government.” True cities, Robert said, should think big, welcome the world’s inhabitants and businesses to make it their home and be open to change and new opportunities. This rings true for Reading.

✅ Reading was recently rated by the Sunday Times among the top 10 best places to live in the South East and, as usual, was among the top cities for ‘Good Growth’ in the annual PwC report. Centre for Cities, among others, reported Reading as one of the most resilient cities in the country and most likely to bounce back quickly after the pandemic. While during the pandemic, housing property analysts found Reading as the most desirable locations for young professional taking a mortgage on a first property.

✅ Our University is one our greatest assets. Among its many accolades, it prepares some 20,000 students from around the world to make the planet a better place, has excellent industry-led research credentials and is home to the world-renowned Henley Business School and has built its own Science Park, now home to an emerging film industry cluster

✅ In the field of climate science, the University has few rivals; the Walker Institute is a leading centre supporting the development of climate resilience; the University is the academic home to Prof Ed Hawkins who created the now famous climate stripes; it has just received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize, the highest national honour for a UK institution in higher and further education, for its work on climate change and will become the world’s largest cluster of weather and climate scientists with the relocation to Reading University of the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and colocation with the University's Department of Meteorology, parts of the UK Met Office, NERC National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences and NERC National Centre for Earth Observation.

✅ Location of choice outside London since the 50’s, the Reading post code area boasts one of the biggest concentrations of global companies outside London with the town centre home to the world’s top accountancy firms PWC, EY, BDO , KPMG and Grant Thornton, but also the emerging growth of the life science companies like Bayer at Green Park and green energy and utilities companies around Reading. The legacy of the global giants is not just economic prosperity but the spawning of many entrepreneurs - global companies like Egnyte, a digital security software company recently relocated to the Pinnacle in Reading city centre from Silicon Valley; local start up success Altitude Angels planning to manage the drone super highway above south and central England based in the Blade. Reading is also known for the high numbers of employees in IT and digital jobs and was identified by Tech Nation as the UK’s digital sector hub.

✅ Reading capital of Berkshire is the fourth largest urban area in the South-East with a catchment of 1.7 million people. The historic centre dates back to Henry I who built Reading Abbey but we also boast a Minster and have been the national seat of Government in the past as well as regional and local level for many centuries. We are a rich multi-cultural performing arts centre and following our 2016 Year of Culture we should now be aspiring to be a UK City of Culture. Just don’t mention Reading Gaol - a travesty of Government and the MOJ in action that has lain empty for nine years having rebuffed the offers of our local authority to take it over for the benefit of the residents and businesses of our city with a sympathetic development plan to further regenerate the town centre .

✅ There is more ambition to come. The city centre will adapt again, with a little nudge from Reading UK through our Business Improvement District programme and the new town centre strategy (from Local Plan to 2050 Vision). More residents, more liveable communities of green spaces and biodiversity along the rivers and on buildings, less traffic, moving towards nett zero carbon and climate resilience, more vitality and leisure and cultural experiences, celebrating our multi-cultural communities, continuing to welcome migrants and refugees. Our city centre will be a more liveable place.

Despite political decisions, Reading, a city-brand that celebrates success, demonstrates its clear identity and has strong aspirations for the future, will continue to stand proud alongside other UK and international cities. Let’s go forward together and raise the volume about Reading City.

Nigel Horton-Baker, Reading UK

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