Introduction to “a walk around Reading’s IDR”

The IDR as it was intended to be built at the time that Stage I was under construction.

The Whitley Pump is leading a walk around Reading’s Inner Distribution Road (IDR) as part of this year’s Heritage Open Days in September. Reading’s post-war history, in which it transformed from a primarily industrial to a retail town, circle the IDR like the IDR circles the town centre.

Construction of Reading’s IDR began in 1968, but it was never completed as envisaged. The road as we know it today completes the circuit of Reading town centre and although stages I and II were built as planned, work then stalled for many years at the ‘ski jump’ at the bottom of Southampton Street.

The ski jump at the end of the IDR in 1984. The Hook and Tackle is the on the left, painted white.

The IDR was built to encircle the centre of Reading and it still represents a boundary between the civic, commercial and historic centre and the rest of the town.

Although the objective of taking traffic out of shopping streets and distributing it around town was partially met, traffic does not always flow freely, and to many residents the IDR represents a barrier to cross. Without it, Broad Street may never have been pedestrianised.

Construction required the demolition of some of Reading’s Victorian terraced streets, local pubs and business premises. Thankfully, the proposed route through the Forbury Gardens to Vastern Road never materialised as around this time Reading rediscovered its heritage.

Under the IDR with snow

Road network around Reading

The IDR was not the only major road development which affected the town. To the south, junctions 9 to 15 of the M4 were opened in 1971 by the junior transport minister Michael Heseltine.

The first section of Reading’s one-way system along King’s Road (east) and London Road (west) pre-dates the IDR and came into force on Sunday 16 June 1968 and still operates today [ref 1].

The A329 (M) was also built in the 1970s and was meant to join up with the still awaited third Thames bridge.

Much later, around 2000, the A33 relief road joined the IDR which created a major junction with the IDR between Coley and Katesgrove.

A33 View from Berkeley Avenue bridge

In 2006 a one-way IDR was considered. This would have flowed in an anti-clockwise direction with some clockwise access for buses and emergency vehicles. It would have removed the flyover at Mill Lane “… with the intention of creating linkages between local communities by reducing severance and improving pedestrian facilities.” [ref 2]

Local political situation

The 1972 Local Government Act changed the powers of Reading Council. When it came into force, Reading became a non-metropolitan district council; education, highways and strategic planning were transferred to the new Berkshire County Council.

Alan Alexander wrote “there is no doubt that the re-organization of local government reduced the capacity of the borough council to affect the life of the town.” [ref 3]

The first local elections in Reading after these changes were on 7 June 1973 and the results were 16 Conservative, 16 Labour and 14 Liberal councillors, with no party in overall control.

This continued until 1983 when the Conservatives took control. After another year of no overall control from 1986-87, the Labour Party ran the council continuously until 2008.

Local government in Reading changed again in 1997 when it became the unitary authority it is today.

Civic Centre demolition in progress March 2016

National political situation

Significant national political and economic changes took place in the 1970s while the IDR was under construction.

The voting age was lowered to 18 in the 1969 Representation of the People Act; this came into force on 1 January 1970. The first election that eighteen year olds could vote in was 18 June 1970 in which a conservative government under Edward Heath was elected.

On 1 January 1973, UK joined the EU and the EU referendum to confirm this was held in 1975.

Industrial action by miners at the end of 1973 affected coal production so, in order to reduce commercial power consumption, the government introduced a three day week from January to March 1974. A general election was held in the middle of this which resulted in a minority Labour government led by Harold Wilson. A second election October 1974 increased the number of Labour seats.

A Labour government continued in power during the ‘Winter of Discontent‘ of 1978-79 and more strikes. James Callaghan had succeeded Harold Wilson in 1976 but after the government lost a vote of no confidence following an indecisive result in the Scottish devolution referendum, an election was called for 3 May 1979. The Conservative party’s Margaret Thatcher became prime minister and remained in office until 1990.

Reading industries

When construction of the IDR began, Reading had many large industries in the centre of the town. All of them left town about the same time in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Sutton Seeds had a six acre site between the Forbury and Market Place in the centre of Reading, right on the originally proposed route of the IDR. Consequently, in 1962, they made the decision to move and concentrated their operations at their vast trial grounds to the east of Reading in Earley. They retained a shop in Market Place until 1973. In 1976 they left the area completely and moved to Torquay in Devon.

Huntley & Palmers closed their factory in 1976 and concentrated manufacture at Huyton in Liverpool. Biscuit tin manufacturers, Huntley, Boorne & Stevens on London Street moved to Woodley at the end of the 60s and were bought by Linpac in 1985.

Huntley, Boorne & Stevens Ltd premises on London Street c.1970

Courage, which had merged with Reading brewer H & G Simonds in 1960 to form Courage Barclay Simonds, moved to Worton Grange near Junction 11 of the M4 in 1979. The brewery in the town centre was demolished in 1983 and forms part of the area now occupied by the Oracle.

As the familiar Reading names left, new industries arrived such as Prudential, Foster Wheeler and Yellow Pages.

This created an opportunity to reshape central sites with shopping centres and new office space.

The IDR today

Walking around the IDR today you are struck by how much development (or re-development) is currently going on. There are several major housing projects in progress and the draft Hosier Street area development framework has just been issued by Reading Borough Council for consultation.

It is possible to appreciate the varied concrete surfaces that present themselves for the enjoyment of the thoughtful observer as construction stages I and II of the IDR wind their way through the western fringes of the centre.

It is also a good route to take in Reading’s heritage, some of which narrowly escaped destruction, in the onward march of the internal combustion engine.

Mill Lane concrete


References and Bibliography
  1. Reading Chronicle Friday June 14 1968 p1.
  2. IDR Management: Environmental Scoping Study. January 2006. Peter Brett Associates. para 2.5.2.
  3. Borough Government and Politics, Reading 1835-1985. Alan Alexander. p227
  4. Sutton Seeds, a History 1806 – 2006. Earley Local History Group
  5. Huntley & Palmers website
  6. Huntley Boorne & Stevens and Tin Box Manufacturing in Berkshire 1832-1985, T A B Corley. Berkshire Archaeological Journal 72, 1983-5
  7. Ann Smith, Reading in the 1970s. Library publications
  8. History of Reading. Library publications
  9. Whitley Pump offers “a walk around Reading’s IDR” for Heritage Open Days 2018
  10. The IDR on the Whitley Pump
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