THE main roads into Swindon would be torn up and replaced with water under a plan to run a canal through town.

Under the route being examined as part of a £500,000 traffic survey, the canal would connect with the existing waterway at Kingshill, run along Westcott Place, Faringdon Road and Fleet Street before widening out in to a marina in Fleming Way.

The canal would pass under the railway line and join the current canal plan through Purton.

Architect of the scheme, council leader Roderick Bluh, pictured left, confirmed details of the new route after they were leaked at a meeting of the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust earlier this month.

He said that the canal could transform the town, forming a massive tourist attraction to showcase some of Swindon's most important heritage.

The canal would replace Faringdon Road and would run alongside the park which would become a feature of the scheme, along with the Railway Village, former railway museum and the Mechanics' Institute and the Milton Road baths.

Coun Bluh (Con, Dorcan) hopes the marina or basin in Fleming Way could be fringed by cafes and hotels.

But the plan would also require a drastic revamp of the town's roads.

Coun Bluh said early plans would see an end to the current one-way roads ringing the town centre.

In their place, motorists would be able to drive in to the centre on one of four entry roads but then have to leave the same way.

"We've got consultants looking at the proposal," Coun Bluh said. "You would have four points of access in to the town centre.

"There would have to be access to town centre car parks.

"This would be a tourist attraction with the Faringdon Park, museum and Railway Village. You have all the town's heritage priorities along the route."

He said that the waterway would have varying widths but an average of about 18ft.

"I believe it would fundamentally change the look of Swindon," he said.

"It would be an integral part of the town regeneration."

The traffic study is under way with town centre results expected later this year.

The canal would cost about £30m and could be delivered in the next three to seven years.

"This was the route I always wanted," Coun Bluh said.

"Town centres would be places for people to work and live, not for cars to drive around.

"The original canal trust estimate was £30m to put it through the centre.

"It won't be much more than that.It would have to be done in sections.

"I am looking to deliver the town centre section in time for the Arena, within a period of three to seven years."

The Arena is part of the regeneration plans and will include a central piazza, creating a central focal point for the town centre.

"Get the vision right and people buy in," said Coun Bluh. "This is a one-off opportunity.

"I cannot overestimate how important this could be.

"You aren't going to change the perception of Swindon with just a few new buildings."

He said that reopened canals had transformed other towns, including Staly-bridge in Yorkshire, pictured above, and parts of Birmingham.

The full traffic study will be complete later this year, paid for with £500,000 in Government growth point funding.

Coun Bluh said he was working on ways to get the canal paid for without council money.

"This is something where we can attract external funding," he said.

Railways spelled end of the line for barges

The Wilts and Berks Canal was one of the later canal schemes to be launched.

A board of potential investors met in 1793, with the idea to link the Wessex area with the rest of the country so as to not miss out on the money being generated by the industrial revolution.

Work started in 1795, and took 15 years to finish the link between Semington junction on the Kennet and Avon canal with Abingdon on the Thames.

When operational the canal brought cheap coal to Swindon, Wootton Bassett, Melksham, Faringdon, Wantage and Oxford, as well as offering the ability to export locally-produced food, bricks, pipes and quarried stone.

The Wilts and Berks heyday came in the 1830s, when the canal benefited from the flourishing Great Western Railway.

But the railway took away much of the canal use and contributed to its own decline.

In 1901 a stormy night saw the Stanley aqueduct in Chippenham collapse and leave the area above Lacock dry.

This rendered the rest of the canal useless for navigation, and after several years of decline, in 1914 the Government passed an Act of Abandonment, and the canal land was sold off to nearby landowners.

  • Information from the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust.

Trust is backing the scheme

THE route has attracted the support of the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust.

Chief executive Ken Oliver, pictured, said the trust had always wanted to run the canal through the town centre but reopening the former route through Canal Walk had failed to attract support.

He said the Faringdon Road route was "absolutely" feasible.

"We think it's one of the most exciting happening in Swindon's regeneration," Mr Oliver said.

"It would give the town centre tourism a boost.

"It would be nice to put the canal back where it was but there are tremendous build issues. There's no real desire by the shops to have it there.

"Our plans until recently had avoided the town centre because there was no desire to have the canal.

"The aspiration Swindon has is to do some sort of regeneration as in Birmingham with the Gas Street basin.

"Twenty years ago nobody would go near it because it was a horrible place.

"Now it's thriving."