Changes to Reading ‘rabbit hutch’ office to 144 flats made

Changes have been made to a flats plan described as ‘rabbit hutches’ by one councillor, who says they are still ‘sub-standard’.

Plus a bid to spruce up the building and add 38 apartments to it has been held off for now.

In May last year, developers Tene Living won approval to convert Soane Point in Reading town centre from offices into 144 flats following an appeal to the Government planning inspectorate.

The decision was met with chagrin by councillor Tony Page (Labour, Abbey) who disparately described the plan as providing “144 rabbit hutches.”

But Tene Living made changes to the layout of the flats, submitting amendments to the approved conversion in November.

The changes involved relocating kitchens away from sleeping areas in the studio flats, adding servicing facilities such as cleaner’s store, and changes to the layout of the communal areas and lobbies.

These layout changes have now been approved.

Cllr Page still criticised the scheme, as he argued the council have “no control” over office to home conversions since a 2013 rule change which allowed such conversions through permitted development rights.

He also argued that the approved conversion was poorly laid out in the first place.

Cllr Page said: “This highlights the gross deficiencies of the prior approval process and the fact that councils will be saddled with substandard accommodation.

“The amendments are on the whole improvements, and really underline the extent to which the original consent was unacceptable

“These are benefits which show just how inadequate and how disgraceful the prior approval regime is, that allows these to be even drawn up.

“We have no control over standards and quality and that’s the legacy of a Tory coalition government that pushed this through.”

The changes were unanimously approved by the council’s planning committee on Wednesday, January 11.

However, Tene Living’s plan to spruce up the exterior of Soane Point and add 38 apartments to it has been put on hold.

Designs show the façade having red, dark grey, beige and light grey colouring.

Reading Chronicle: A plan for the front elevation of Soane Point in Market Place, Reading. Credit TP BennetA plan for the front elevation of Soane Point in Market Place, Reading. Credit TP Bennet

While councillors praised plans for changes to façade, with cllr Andrew Hornsby-Smith (Labour, Church) calling them “a massive improvement”, concerns were raised about the plans for waste collection.

Councillors felt two bin stores on the lower ground level would not be enough for the new occupants.

Of the 19 would be two-bed, 16 would be one-bed and three would have three-bedrooms.

For parking, 20 car spaces would be provided, with two reserved for electric vehicles, which cllr Hornsby-Smith argued was not enough as there will be a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

The committee unanimously chose to defer decision on the façade changes and 38 flats addition, which would bring the total amount of flats to 182.

Plans for Soane Point were split into separate applications, which you can view by typing their references into the council’s planning portal:

Approved layout changes – 221766

Deferred external changes and 38 flats – 221446

Reading Chronicle | Town Centre