THE plan to build a canal through the centre of Swindon has been given the thumbs up by a business expert.

Paul Briggs, chief executive of the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce Group, has said that a canal could provide a big boost to the town.

He welcomed the project as a key element in transforming Swindon's town centre into a leisure and visitor attraction, disposing of its dreary reputation.

He said: "Swindon has been perceived in a negative light, with many suggesting that the town lacks any special characteristics and this new development could be an ideal opportunity to change this.

"Constructed properly, and more importantly managed to a high standard, this development could significantly add to and improve the attractiveness of the town centre, creating a fantastic environment which both local people and visitors can enjoy."

Mr Briggs, pictured right, pointed to Reading as an example of a waterway scheme which had successfully revitalised a town centre.

He said: "During the late 1980s and early 1990s Reading's town centre was in dire need of re-development and improvement.

"Various schemes were put forward and eventually the Oracle project was agreed to be built in a run down area.

"It transformed the derelict eyesore of the Kennet and Avon canal into a striking visitor destination and has added to the attractiveness of the shopping centre.

"It would be a great pity if this idea of regeneration, making a difference to the town just as the railway did some 100 years earlier, was dismissed due to petty politics and misinformation, without the advantages being properly debated.

"For this reason the core funding, as well as all other details of the proposal, must be explained to Swindon's community. This needs to be done in an open forum with appropriate drawings and visuals.

"The important thing is that all the key stakeholders sign up to the fact that something needs to be done to attract people to live, socialise and shop in the town.

"These proposals are a start and the Chamber looks forward to being part of moving the debate forwards. This may well be a one off opportunity that will affect the future of the town for many years."

Mr Briggs' comments come on the back of fiery exchanges between political parties at the last council meeting.

After a heated debate in the council chambers it was decided that the council would look into the possibility of a canal in more detail, using the findings to put the matter to a public poll.