EXPERTS have backed a project to create a new canal through central Swindon - and it will cost at least £52m.

Early predictions are that construction costs alone will top £50m - with much more needed to cover costs of traffic and road improvements.

Swindon Council will tonight debate a report which says although the canal is technically feasible, extra work is needed to work out how to pay for it, how to divert traffic and whether the public even want it.

Council leader Rod Bluh is an enthusiastic supporter of the scheme.

And he admitted the problems had to be overcome.

"I'm not hiding from the fact that it's highly problematic," he said.

"It will probably be costly too - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it," he said.

But not everyone is quite so enthusiastic.

Coun Derique Montaut (Lab, Central), whose ward would be affected by canal plan, said the idea is sound in principle, but that the proposed route - from Kingshill to Fleet Street, along Westcott Place and Faringdon Road - is wrong.

"In a rural setting it would be ideal but in an urban area, which is already congested, this canal will just make things worse," he said.

"No one wants to look at shopping trolleys and all sorts of rubbish floating about, so there also needs to be a budget for continual cleaning.

"But with council funds being squeezed, where is that money going to come from?"

On the subject of funding Coun Bluh admitted that the council has "no answers at the moment" but expected housing to generate some cash and hoped the National Lottery and businesses could financially prop up the project.

"It's not about going around with a begging bowl but if you can create a project that captures the imagination people will run with it," he said.

The report has been compiled by the Wroughton-based engineering company Halcrow.

It said although a canal will generate cash, much of it will be long-term and that investment in restoring the canal would eat into short-term gains. It also points out that as the Olympic Games looms Lottery funding is becoming increasingly hard to come by.

Coun Phil Young, cabinet member for economic development, regeneration and development, said the recent failure of a Lottery bid to fund a canal linking Cricklade and Swindon was a worry.

He said: "It was a bit of a blow when they lost out on the funding, but it hasn't knocked us off course."

The report also shows that responses from the public have been mixed.

Disgruntled Adver reader Frank Avenell said he does not support the plan because of his memories of the old canal.

He said: "I can recall when it was shut down because it was a health hazard. People used to chuck all their garbage in it, and they will again."

However, Roy Cartwright, chairman of the Swindon branch of the Wilts and Berks canal trust, said the response at the Trust's Regent Circus premises has been overwhelmingly positive: He said: "Of the hundreds of people who came in, only three were against the canal.

"One was drunk, the second one just opened the door and shouted obscenities and the third person spoke to us for an hour before coming back the next day wanting to know more."