Perhaps the greatest accolade that the Reading community can give to development and infrastructure consultant Peter Brett Associates is that it has literally helped the town keep moving in the right direction, writes John Burbedge
A generation ago, Reading was sadly renowned for its travel congestion by rail, road or bus, with cycle-lanes a distant dream. Today, the town boasts 21st century travel infrastructure – a showpiece £850 million rail station, improved motorway and main road links, efficient bus-lane routing with real-time passenger messaging, a growing Park & Ride network, defined cycle-paths plus a Readybike hire scheme, pedestrianised town centre areas and Christchurch Bridge, a stylish foot-and-pedal Thames crossing.
As PBA’s land development, infrastructure and transport partner Scott Witchalls points out: “People may challenge that Reading has improved its travel flow, but there are probably twice as many people moving around the town now than we had 25 years ago and in many areas flow has improved a lot. We are not promising the removal of travel congestion, because ironically congestion can be a measure of successful economic growth, which just means that we have to keep striving for improvements and can’t rest on our laurels.”
Of course, PBA does not provide the funding for major redevelopment projects and innovative schemes but its funding bid, design and implementation expertise has facilitated their successful completion for private and public sector clients, notably Reading Borough Council, Wokingham and West Berkshire councils. And such improvements attract investors to the area – essential for growth.
It is not just transportation that PBA has enhanced and kept moving for Reading. PBA has also helped keep the town moving towards the requirements of 21st century businesses and employee lifestyles.
With its independent specialists covering the whole development lifecycle from early planning to the final built environment PBA, founded in 1965, has been involved in a wealth of other beneficial projects within Reading and its Thames Valley environs.
For instance, PBA can feel justifiably proud of Reading’s landmark Green Park community south of the town. The community, enabled by an innovatively designed long-term floodwater relief scheme (now viewed by many people as a natural environment, although it’s an award-winning PBA engineered solution) has unlocked business employment and inward investment for the town.
With PBA-assisted Arlington Park at Theale, Thames Valley Park east of Reading, and Green Park already providing corporate homes for major world players such as Oracle, Microsoft, Huawei and Bayer, the Reading practice is currently involved with the Reading Gateway mixed-use development off M4 J11, and a new Logistics Park at Island Road.
It is also helping to create Reading’s game-changing Thames Valley Science Park in Shinfield and the extensive proposed mixed-use development of Royal Elm Park near the Madejski Stadium.
New multiple award-winning town-centre offices at Nine Greyfriars and Thames Tower by the station saw major PBA design and engineering involvement, as will the waterfront City-living 765-home residential development planned with L+Q at Kenavon Drive overlooking the river Kennet, and other long-planned, high-rise buildings close to the station.
And the future? PBA is already assisting Reading (and other local towns) to capitalise on its UK ‘Silicon Valley’ IT attributes through a LEP-supported ‘smart city’ cluster project. “Reading never used to feature in the Huawei UK Smart Cities Index. Now we are in the top 20, and aiming to be number one,” Witchalls remarked.
While the strategic forward-thinking and innovative design and engineering skills of PBA are major assets for its clients, this national practice is also helping to build its own future.
PBA takes on 20-30 graduates every year, has 50 in-house trained apprentices working closely with local schools, and is a lead partner with the town’s university technical college, UTC Reading, helping to shape the curriculum and provide project work to develop the fundamental knowledge and skills required by the industry.
PBA is aiming to double its size by the early 2020s. Currently it has a £63m turnover and 700 staff – around 300 working out of its Reading office beside the Thames at Caversham Bridge.