The first thing to say... wow. Many fans have complained about how the Madejski Stadium is just a soulless bowl on the edge of town, with nothing around it save for a few large shops and a "civic amenity site". This development firmly changes that and suddenly creates not only atmosphere but beauty around the complex. Much thought has clearly been put into how this will affect fans' perceptions of the stadium - yes, the main parts of this proposition are a new convention centre and over 600 new dwellings which aren't directly related to the club, but the square in front of the West Stand is a beautiful open space for supporters to congregate before and after matches - perhaps long into the night, and even outside of matchdays.
(c) Royal Elm Park
The convention centre has the potential to increase Reading's presence in the area, lying at it does just outside London. Crossrail is coming soon, and that will no doubt lead the town to be linked even more closely with the capital city. With a brand new multi-purpose facility for sports, music, theatre, comedy and more, it could attract new people to the town that otherwise wouldn't have even contemplated coming here. Granted, Reading already has a plethora of venues capable of hosting such events, but the sparkle and glamour of this brand new development will almost certainly entice people to the area. Increasing business in the region is no bad thing for residents, especially with the Madejski Stadium far enough out of town to not directly impact those living in other suburbs.
In addition, the planned creation of 1,000 new full time jobs will certainly help those looking for work and shows that this is an area that is open all hours, not just for six hours on a Saturday. The potential for Royal Elm Park to become a "new" or "second" town centre is very real - just as has been the case for decades, the heart of a town is often based in its football club. Elm Park was at the very centre of Reading, both literally and metaphorically. Whilst the Mad Stad is a distance from the old base and isn't alive in the same way just yet, it could finally start to feel a pulse flowing through its veins if and when these plans come to fruition.
With the increased demand on the area, it's good to see that the planners have considered extra transport links in order to cope. Subsidised local transport will entice supporters to decrease their carbon footprint and, arguably, enhance their matchday experience by sharing their journeys with fellow fans. The Green Park rail station, if and when that's finalised, will also alleviate some of the pressure as well as giving fans who travel by train a far closer stop. And though the entire site is built on the existing car park, a new multi-storey facility should allow those who still need to drive the ability to do so. It may take some changing of ways, and many fans' journeys will be affected, but it seems at though a conscious effort has been made to soften the blow.
(c) Royal Elm Park
And let's not understate what this shows about the owners of Reading Football Club. They have the means, and are willing to invest. It has to be said this isn't ploughing money directly into the club, but the benefits of it are sure to be felt - investment that should return a profit which will hopefully be recycled into developing the Royals. A clear commitment not only to the team but also to the town; after the waiting for funds to be released, an avalanche has suddenly begun which will transform Reading both on and off the pitch.
However, it can't all be positive, and there are a few concerns that fans will have as they peruse the plans.
(c) Royal Elm Park
As mentioned previously and shown above, new transport links seem to have been meticulously planned in order to lessen the impact of (and in some cases enhance) supporters' journeys to the stadium. But this will take time to all come together - Green Park station in 2017/18, time to build and plan for the increased bus capacity, highways improvements ongoing... but none are immediate.
Whereas development is planned to begin in 2016 - which, one presumes, wipes out the car park entirely. The London Irish website claims that the Madejski Stadium has over 2,000 parking spaces, as well as those in nearby overflow areas. Seeing as that's filled up nearly every matchday, that's a big area to try and temporarily replace in next to no time. A new multi-storey car park is mooted to house 750 of these vehicles - less than half of the current capacity. And if you've ever tried the game of chicken that is escaping the current car park, just imagine attempting to flee a multi-storey...
The travel links around the stadium are a nightmare even outside of matchdays, and despite the attempts to encourage the use of public transport, it'll take some time for that to catch on, if at all - for some people, it will still be too expensive, too long-winded or too laborious to consider an alternative to driving. In the mean time, even more pressure will be put on the intricate maze that is junction 11 of the M4, whilst the Park and Ride system will equally mean increased flow around the complex. Put simply, whilst development is taking place both at the stadium and on outside transport links, it could mean chaos in and around Reading.
(c) Royal Elm Park
Another potential issue will be with future expansion of the stadium, which for a couple of years in the Premier League was under serious consideration. Whilst increasing the capacity of the West Stand was nigh on impossible anyway due to the Upper level and the directors' boxes, it's now entirely possible that with such demands on the area, adding more seats to the stadium might be a tough one to get past planning committees. The back of the North Stand is close to the brand new conference centre, whilst the South Stand's transport link to the M4 junction will bear an increased load in the light of the expansion. Obviously this is just speculation, but the creation of a new complex around the Madejski might limit its own potential in the future.
And lastly, where are the pubs?! Well, in fact the plans do promise "high quality leisure and retail" as well as "cafes and restaurants". But fans have been crying out for a decent boozer nearby to head to before the match. From a purely practical point of view, this may never be possible with the inability to segregate home and away fans in a public square, but hopefully when plans are finalized it'll include the chance to whet one's whistle before heading in to the Carabao Bowl to watch the Reading Royals play Premier League football. OK, now I'm just dreaming...!
What do you think of the plans? Are you excited by the potential of the development? Let us know below.