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Future Cities Forum infrastructure debate - Part Two

Station Hill, Reading development (CallisonRTKL / Gensler / LDA Design for MGT Investment Management)

The importance of well planned public realm and retail around stations was a vital part of our infrastructure and transport forum discussion last week. Both architects Chapman Taylor and master-planning and landscape design firm LDA Design spoke about St Pancras International and Station Hill Reading.

Chapman Taylor's Head of Transportation, Peter Farmer, said it was true that the UK is playing 'catch up' around improving station infrastructure, one of the problems being the highly regulated nature of rail, and the challenge in creating something more human and flexible in character. He also spoke of the changing nature of commuting to work post Covid-19 and how that might affect station design:

'Our working patterns will change and there will be less commuting. We often socially distance on the platform but can't get that level of separation on trains. But the nature of stations has been changing over the last decade and there is about 25% of revenue being generated from non-travelling footfall.

'There is going to be a continued shift in thinking. Investment used to be very train operator orientated, leaving the surrounding area just 'to be' - we used to spend millions just for the benefit of adjacent land owners. Now that has changed, there is a stimulus to investment from the surrounding economy and we are beginning to understand what effect those impacts will have. The private sector model at St Pancras works really well and in design terms the emphasis on creating 'place' has been successful and important.'

LDA Design's Director, Cannon Ivers commented that in the UK railway station development does seem a bit behind the curve.:

'Often coming into a station, you could be anywhere in the world...we should allow for local place to infiltrate into a certain destination to give the experience something of a unique quality. Flexibility is fundamental as we come out of Covid and in terms of how cities are going to operate. At Reading, we are trying to create a gateway - a new arrival experience - something fresh with connectivity to high street and town centre.'

'Coming out of Covid everyone wants to experience the public realm again and the station is the best place, so if the public realm is working that's also going to work for the investment.'

The Station Hill development adjacent to Reading Station is set to benefit from being at the western start point of the Elizabeth Line. The full scheme details for the transformational £750 million development have been recently granted planning approval securing the renewed vision for the scheme. The design of the project is being overseen by an international collective that features CallisonRTKL acting as the project master-planner and architect for the residential and hotel buildings.

Stephen Dance of the I&PA was asked what opportunity there might be to use the stations being built along the HS2 route to generate money from retail and other commercial activities to balance the investment into the line's infrastructure:

'The government's levelling up programme is not about competition between regions but it is about levelling upwards for the whole economy. HS2 will be part of it and that is the big bet. I am not sure cancelling HS2 would do much for levelling up credentials, especially the northern legs of it. We need to leverage the hell out of it as it a massive investment. We need to be sensible about investments and that's about thinking about stations and places as being economic gateways.'.

CallinsonRTKL has stated the importance of office occupiers in the workplace destination of the station design:

'This latest approval brought forward by the joint venture between Lincoln Property Company and MGT Investment Management (Lincoln MGT) will create a new gateway for Reading, comprising up to 625,000 sq ft best-in-class office space, 750 private and affordable homes, and over 60,000 sq ft of new lifestyle-led retail and leisure space, including potential for a 200-bed hotel and later living accommodation, and two acres of public realm. This will deliver a new and improved landscaped entrance to Reading which will play host to a series of curated, community-focussed events.

A prominent element of the proposal, One Station Hill, will be the first office building within the scheme, offering 275,000 sq ft of best-in-class workspace. There has been considerable occupational interest in this state-of-the-art building which offers amenities that, until now, have rarely been seen outside of the London market. This includes several onsite fitness facilities and concierge services, as well as its own tech-based ecosystem that will provide occupiers with complete control of their workspace.

Watch out for our more detailed infrastructure and station report coming soon, with more detail from our forum contributors.


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