Reading (pronounced Redding) is a borough and unitary authority area based on a town of the same name in the ceremonial county of Berkshire, England. It is located in the Thames Valley at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, and on both the Great Western Main Line railway and the M4 motorway. Reading is located 36 miles (58 km) east from Swindon, 24 miles (39 km) south from Oxford, 36 miles (58 km) west of central London, and 14 miles (23 km) north from Basingstoke.
The Borough of Reading has a population of 145,700 (2008 estimate) and the town formed the largest part of the Reading/Wokingham Urban Area which had a population of 318,014 (2011 census).
Local government for the town of Reading is principally provided by the Borough of Reading, a single level unitary authority without civil parishes. However some of the town's outer suburbs are in West Berkshire and Wokingham unitary authorities. These outer suburbs belong to civil parishes, in some cases with their own town status.
Reading has elected at least one Member of Parliament to every Parliament since 1295. Historically, Reading was represented by the members for the Parliamentary Borough of Reading, and the parliamentary constituencies of Reading, Reading North, and Reading South. Since the 2010 general election, Reading and its surrounding area has been divided between the parliamentary constituencies of Reading East and Reading West. The whole of the town is within the multi-member South East England European constituency.
Borough of Reading
Reading has had some degree of local government autonomy since 1253, when the local merchant guild was granted a royal charter. Since then, the town has been run by a borough corporation, as a county borough, and as a district of Berkshire. The Borough of Reading became a unitary authority area in 1998, when Berkshire County Council was abolished under the Banham Review, and is now responsible for all aspects of local government within the borough.
Prior to the 16th century, civic administration for the town of Reading was situated in the Yield Hall, a guild hall situated by the River Kennet near today's Yield Hall Lane. After a brief stay in what later became Greyfriars Church, the town council created a new town hall by inserting an upper floor into the refectory of the Hospitium of St John, the former hospitium of Reading Abbey. For some 400 years up to the 1970s, this was to remain the site of Reading's civic administration through the successive rebuilds that eventually created today's Town Hall. In 1976, Reading Borough Council moved to the new Civic Centre.
The government of the Borough of Reading follows the leader and cabinet model. Following the 2011 local elections, a Labour minority administration replaced the previous Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition on the casting vote of the mayor. The borough also has a (largely ceremonial) mayor. In 2011–12 this position is held by Councillor Deborah Edwards.
Since 1887, the borough has included the former villages of Southcote and Whitley and small parts of Earley and Tilehurst. By 1911, it also encompassed the Oxfordshire village of Caversham and still more of Tilehurst. A small area of Mapledurham parish was added in 1977. An attempt to take over a small area of Eye and Dunsden parish in Oxfordshire was rejected because of strong local opposition in 1997. Today the borough itself is unparished, and the wards used to elect the borough councillors generally ignore the old parish boundaries and use invented ward names.
Reading's municipal boundaries do not include all of the surrounding suburbs, some of which belong administratively to West Berkshire (administered in Newbury) and Wokingham Borough. This creates difficult policies for the town as it wishes to expand housing and roads. The diminishing amount of land available and suitable for development within the borough's boundary can bring the council into conflict with its neighbours' development plans. This particularly affects education (many schools have catchment areas that cross administrative boundaries), and transport. A perennial example is whether to construct a third road crossing of the Thames, which South Oxfordshire's politicians and residents oppose. On this subject, Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, said in a House of Commons debate in January 2006: