Reading Central Club near the town centre has been closed since 2006.
Situated in London Street, it contains the town’s Black History Mural, which has paintings of Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jnr, and other figures from Black history.
Back in 2018, the council began a process to redevelop the club site and replace the space lost to the community, with developers Red Line winning the bidding process.
The developers then submitted a plan to build 17 apartments and community space in December last year. The proposal involves the demolition of the Central Club building and its replacement with a three store building containing seven one-bed, seven two-bed and three three-bed apartments.
Reading Borough Council gave over the site on the provision that the mural be preserved and restored as part of any future proposals.
Now Red Line’s plan for the site has been decided by the council’s planning committee. The plan faced criticism from opposition councillors who argued the community space element of the plan lacked detail.
Councillor Simon Robinson (Conservative, Emmer Green) said: “We certainly welcome a development proposal on this site, given the fact that it has remained empty for so long.
“A major red flag I have is around community space. When we have an application that comes before plan, to be faced with a situation where it’s a ‘oh we haven’t given that much thought that, we’re waiting and we will build it in later’.
“If we’re considering a planning application we like to have everything in place. I’m not happy with this particular design or development.”
However, cllr Micky Leng (Labour, Whitley), argued that details of the community space will be shaped in discussions with the community itself, and that having a “blank canvas” would allow for greater flexibility.
Of the 17 apartments, two will be designated affordable, being one one-bed and one three-bed apartment.
But there were queries over which provider would run this affordable housing.
Cllr Leng said that the council itself should manage these two apartments, which will both be affordable rented accommodation.
Currently watching Reading Borough Council’s planning committee meeting, where councillors are set to decide on a plan to replace the Central Club in London Street with 17 flats and community space. You can follow along by using the link here https://t.co/6FyVzLYqYH pic.twitter.com/kyOf7FHSHD
— James Aldridge (@jamesAjourno) July 19, 2023
There was also a debate over what type of brick would be used for the building, with opposition councillors calling for brickwork to be more in keeping with others in London Street, which is a conservation area.
But cllr Karen Rowland (Labour, Abbey) replied by saying the focus has to be on the mural.
She said: “This (the new building) is not here to shine, the objects that need to shine are at the ground level, and I would urge the minimalist approach of this building, and the massing that was kept commendably down.”
Another councillor said that approval would allow space for to be returned to the Black community after such a long closure.
Cllr John Ennis (Labour, Southcote) said: “I think it would be a community value where culturally that can be used by the Black community, that would be a result after 15 years of pain.
“Keep the mural, move forwards, get some nice brickwork, and let’s get that club back up and running.”
Ultimately, the plan was approved with all Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat members voting for it and Conservatives voting against it at the meeting on Wednesday, July 19.
The council’s Labour administration faced criticism for accepting Red Line’s bid for the site, rather than one submitted by Aspire CIC, set up by members from the Afro-Caribbean community.
You can view the approved application by typing reference 221364 into the council’s planning portal.