A LOCAL charity is urging planners to go back to the drawing board and reconsider the regeneration of Swindon town centre.
The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust believes the current vision is “missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to maximise the impact of a restored waterway.
Forward Swindon is currently consulting on a masterplan which would include bringing the canal back into the town through North Star as far as a basin adjacent to Station Road. Crucially, it omits linking this section to the restored canal at Westleaze.
The trust believes the scheme should be more ambitious and extend the restoration through the entire town so that more residents and businesses can enjoy the benefits of a new wildlife corridor which would attract tourism and employment.
The charity, which recently received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, is now urging local people to take part in the consultation.
The trust’s Chris Coyle said: “We really do appreciate the hard work of everyone involved in preparing the current plans, but they run the risk of missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the most of this wonderful waterway.
“Estimates suggest the Swindon economy could benefit from an additional £10m per year if the Wilts & Berks was brought back to life, as well as increased leisure opportunities and improved access to the countryside.
“The current plan to only bring the canal as far as Station Road means many parts of the town might miss out on these tremendous benefits.
“We are urging all of our 2,300 members to rally together and make their views known, and we hope other people will join our campaign too.”
The aim of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust is to restore the waterway from the Kennet and Avon Canal, near Melksham, to the Thames & Severn Canal, near Cricklade, and the River Thames, near Abingdon, linking Chippenham, Calne, Royal Wootton Bassett and Swindon.
The charity hopes it will provide a multi-million-pound boost to the local economy through increased tourism and employment, as well as providing an amenity for boaters, walkers, cyclists and anglers.
Significant stretches have already been restored across the county – including at Kingshill – and have proved to be a popular attraction.
Chris said: “The social, economic, environmental and cultural benefits of a restored waterway have already been demonstrated across the UK.
“These towns have seen the creation of new wildlife habitats and the establishment of canalside cafes and bars and other facilities.
“We are as keen as everyone else to see Swindon transformed and new jobs created, but we must look at the bigger picture.
“The reluctance to engage with this exciting project seems to revolve around concerns about the cost of the canal without looking at the benefit.
“Integrating a waterway into the regeneration will be a fraction of the cost of the scheme but will contribute a proportion of the additional economic benefit.
“We only have one chance to get this right. Every voice will count.”
Visit www.swindonmasterplan. co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.