Memorandum by Reading Borough Council
I am writing to submit the Borough Council's
views to the Select Committee on the above enquiry, in particular
on the issue of city regions and boundaries.
The Council welcomes the enquiry as an opportunity
to explore and review the anachronistic boundaries of many local
authorities in urban areas, and would offer Reading as a specific
example. The Council's boundaries south of the River Thames have
not changed since the first decade of the C20th, and many years
ago ceased to reflect the socio-economic geography of the Reading
urban area. As a consequence the Borough Council is responsible
for decisions affecting the 145,000 citizens living in the historic
centre of an urban area with a population approaching 250,000,
which is currently administered by five local authorities: three
Unitary Authorities, one District Council and one County Council.
Whilst we recognise that Reading is not unique
in this regard, the Reading situation does have specific features
which touch on wider agendas which we bring to the Select Committee's
attention. Reading is the largest town, and the business capital,
of the Thames Valley sub-region, one of the top 20 most prosperous
regions in the European Union, and with the fastest growing economy
in the UK since 1999, and home to 10 of the top 50 global organisations.
Reading has the sixth highest Gross Added Value per head in the
UK. It is the economic driver for growth in the South-East region,
with an impact that is national and international. However, because
of the current local government boundary arrangements it is unable
to take the strategic infrastructure decisions which are necessary
to underpin and support this key role.
The attached plans help illustrate the position.
The first shows the authority's current boundaries, and the significant
areas of suburban developmentall predominantly dependent
on Readingwhich are outside the Borough boundaries. The
second map shows the boundariesboth north and south of
the Thamesagreed by the authority's Cabinet as necessary
to enable the Council to take control of its strategic infrastructure.
There is a body of supporting evidence that
the Council would welcome the opportunity of putting before the
Select Committee, to illustrate the difficulties posed by the
current anachronistic boundaries. I briefly give three below.
Firstly, the Council is restricted in its ability
to take strategic transport decisions. Traffic congestion is identified
regularly by our business partners as a key local challenge, and
Hewlett Packard have recently announced their decision to move
their European HQ out of Reading, primarily due to traffic congestion.
Key elements of the Council's successful transport strategy are
dependent on partnerships with neighbouring authorities which
have different political and local priorities, and which to date
have struggled to rise to the challenge of tackling Reading's
traffic problems in a way which meets Reading's traffic needs.
Recently the fragility of such arrangements were demonstrated
when Wokingham and West Berkshire withdrew from the Reading Urban
Area Package partnership arrangements. Two examples clearly illustrate
the impact neighbouring authorities have on the delivery of the
transport strategy. These relate to the provision of additional
park-and-ride schemes, and the development of a third Thames crossing
to the east of the town. Sites for further park-and-ride schemes
will have to be found outside the Borough boundary, and have not
been forthcoming; the third Thames crossing will have to use land,
both north and south of the river, which again is not in Reading,
and to which there is strong opposition from north of the river
Secondly, the Council is restricted in its ability
to take strategic planning and housing decisions. A consortium
of landowners, led by the Prudential, proposes the development
of brownfield land south-west of Reading, and north of the M4,
to provide around 7,000 new homes and associated employment and
transport infrastructure: this area is shown as (1)[green] on
the second of the enclosed plans (Reading in 2020). This could
go a very significant way to meeting the housing needs of Reading
and its neighbours. However, none of the land in question lies
within the Borough boundary. The very nature and location of this
site means that whilst the planning negotiations and decisions
will be taken by a neighbouring authority, the development will
look to Reading and will impact on and be dependent on the town.
The Council recognises the Government's desire to promote growth
points (as set out in its response to the Barker review of housing
supply), but local boundaries pose a significant challenge to
aspiring to achieve this.
Thirdly, the Council is restricted in its ability
to take strategic education decisions. Due to the history of school
planning and building investment decisions by the former Berkshire
County Council, half of the secondary schools serving the Reading
urban area are located outside the Borough's boundaries, in three
separate local authorities. Two of the secondary schools within
Reading are selective grammar schools with a wide catchment area
and with only a minority of their pupils living within the Borough
boundary. In east Reading, there is no non-selective secondary
school within the Borough boundary. The complexities this creates
were acknowledged in 2005 by HM Inspectorate in a report on the
Council's education provision. At a different level, the boundary
runs through the middle of the university campus, which therefore
finds itself the subject of two planning authorities.
The current boundaries also restrict the Council
in terms of emergency planning and business continuity, and in
improving the local environment.
The Council hopes that the Select Committee
will wish to take evidence from Reading on how the current structure
of local government and boundaries in central Berkshire impact
adversely on the Council, and our vision for resolving this. The
city regions issue has been raised through the Reading 2020 (Local
Strategic) Partnership, and I also attach an excerpt from a recent
report to that body which sets out the economic arguments in more
detail. The LSP Board has, on various occasions, noted both the
importance of leading the sub-regional agenda and addressing anachronistic
boundary implications for transport, housing, employment and related
environmental issues. These concerns have also arisen in LSP consultation
events involving the broader community of the LSP forum.