Living in Reading: why now’s the time to reconsider this commuter town after massive regeneration and with Crossrail on the way
Banish those preconceptions about the Berkshire town of Reading — you know, how it is dull, suburban and plug-ugly.
Taking a little stroll around its town centre should quickly shatter those prejudices. You may be surprised to find an outpost of the Malmaison hotel has set up in an elegant white stucco townhouse close to the station.
In King Street, The Botanist’s cocktail menu is as fanciful as any London bar’s, and the town centre is full of flashy multinational headquarters and tech start-ups.
Looks-wise Reading is still marred by cheaply built post-war office blocks and it is too heavy on chain stores for some tastes.
But the town centre is being revamped and it is already a leading tech hub, with billions of pounds of investment going into some very nice new homes.
The catalyst for all this change can be summed up in one word: Crossrail. Remember that fast railway thing that got delayed?
When the route finally opens fully in 2021 up to six Elizabeth line trains will pass through Reading each hour, with direct services to the West End in about 50 minutes, or the City and Docklands in just over an hour.
Where to buy family houses in Reading
Reading has a good mix of period homes and new developments, catering to every taste from Georgian townhouses to modern apartments.
Anish Shukla, branch manager of Hunters estate agents, says buyers looking for convenience concentrate on the RG1 postcode which encompasses the town centre and Royal Berkshire Hospital.
The area has plenty of flats plus, around the Royal Berkshire Hospital, streets of Victorian terrace houses.
A four-bedroom property in this “young and vibrant” area — for which, read “studenty”, because Reading University is close by — would cost between £310,000 and £350,000.
Family buyers, however, particularly love the affluent suburbs of Caversham and villages of Wargrave and Sonning, north of the town centre and closer to the Chilterns.
Expect to find chunky Arts and Crafts and smart executive homes, golf and sailing clubs, and higher prices here. A five-bedroom house would cost between £575,000 and £650,000.
“Caversham has got its own little town centre with a Waitrose and some pubs and restaurants, while Sonning is by the river and is just beautiful,” says Shukla.
On the new homes front the new kid on the block is Renaissance, just over 200 homes on the site of the former Battle Hospital, which closed in 2005.
Work started on the site this year and the homes, from one-bedroom flats to four-bedroom houses, will be less than a mile from Reading station.
Handy for the station: work has started on Renaissance, with one-bedroom flats to four-bedroom houses
For high rise living there is Verto, just over 100 apartments in an 18-storey building which was completed this summer. To date around half the flats have been sold priced from £270,000 for a one-bedroom property and £340,000 for a two-bedroom home.
Alexa Peters of Savills Reading says most buyers so far are young professionals who work in London, or who work locally and need a pied-à-terre.
In the suburbs the biggest current player is Loddon Park, 544 homes being built on a 50-acre site in Woodley, a town east of Reading. Prices range from £262,500 for a two-bedroom flat, up to £679,950 for a five-bedroom detached house.
The development will be completed by the end of next year and a spokeswoman says that since the homes first went on sale in 2014, about 85 per cent have been sold to a mix of families and young couples.
Berkeley Homes has several projects in Reading, including Green Park Village by its offshoot St Edward. Inspired, apparently, by the seaside architecture of The Hamptons, prices at the lakefront development start from £259,000 for a two-bedroom flat.
Berkeley has been working for 10 years on homes at Kennet Island. The site is three miles south of the town centre and facilities include a nursery, hotel and gym. Prices start from £240,000.
Early next year Berkeley will launch the first homes at its next project. Huntley Wharf is a 765-home city centre scheme where one-bedroom flats are expected to be priced from £299,500, and two-bedroom flats from £380,000.
The seven-acre site was once home to a biscuit factory beside the River Kennet, and as well as homes will also have space for a restaurant, café, shop and gym.
The first residents will move in during 2022 and housing association L&Q will be marketing affordable homes at the site.
Where to weather Brexit
Like everywhere, Brexit has had an impact on Reading’s property market. Mike Shearn, chief executive officer of Haslams estate agents, says average prices stand at about £500 per square foot but town centre flats tend to sell better than new homes beyond the heart of Reading.
He says prices for new apartments have been flat over the past 12 months, while the price of houses is up around three per cent. However, Shearn believes that the long-awaited arrival of Crossrail will provide a boost.
Reading’s building pipeline is certainly busy preparing for an influx.
On the table is a £500 million scheme to build more than 600 homes, plus shops, restaurants and an ice rink on land beside Reading Football Club, while work is expected to start imminently on the £750 million Station Hill project creating 500 homes to rent, plus shops, restaurants and leisure facilities.
The stupendously lacklustre but popular Broad Street Mall is to be redeveloped, too, with 500 new apartments above the existing shops and in two other blocks, plus a hotel, and revamped shops.
A planning application was submitted by the mall’s owner Moorgarth in March and — subject to permission being granted — work could start next year.
Commuting to London from Reading
Reading’s great commuter links have attracted Londoners such as Razia and Reshad Aziz, who swapped East Ham for the Berkshire town a year ago.
With two children aged three and nine, they decided the time had come for a “less frantic” pace of life.
They chose Reading specifically because it is so well connected. Reshad now commutes to his IT job via Paddington, a trip which takes him 26 minutes.
A new start: Razia and Reshad Aziz, with their chidren, have moved to Green Park Village in Reading
The couple, aged 44 and 45, spent £540,000 on their new-build three- to four-bedroom lakeside townhouse at Green Park Village, one of Reading’s main new developments.
“Moving to Reading has completely changed our lives, particularly for our children,” says Mrs Aziz, who is a full-time mother.
“My nine-year-old son now attends a school that provides a lot of outdoor learning experiences like camping, horse riding and boat trips, which has proven to be a great motivator for him to attend school and learn life skills.
“This is in contrast to his school in east London when school trips were, at best, a visit to museums or churches once or twice a year.
“When our friends come to visit from London, the first thing they do is take a deep breath in and say, ‘Wow just how clean is the air?’”