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‘Once in a generation’ canal plans gathering steam

MELKSHAM’Scanal project could see work starting in just 18 months now that planning permission is being considered. 

More than 260 comments on the project have been sent to Wiltshire Council, with most of them in support of the scheme, although there are also concerns about roads, wildlife habitats and the extra houses needed to help fund the scheme.

The £20million Melksham Link project has been in various stages of planning for around 20 years, but organisers say they are now starting to see real progress.

A planning application was submitted to Wiltshire Council by the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust in 2012. In the four years since, a number of changes have been made and public feedback has been collected.

The canal trust’s secretary, Paul Lenaerts, says the team is pleased with the reaction it has received.

“We’ve had a lot of support both from local people and from canal enthusiasts across the country,” he told Melksham Independent News. “This has always been a project people have warmed to. It’s great to have people in the wider area on board, but Melksham is our number one priority. We’re very pleased to have people in the town backing us. I think people see the success that the Kennet and Avon Canal has and feel it’s a great thing for a town to have. The river is quite understated in Melksham, but it’s a wonderful stretch of river and deserves to be well used.”

The project expects to provide a new 3km canal between Semington and Farmers Roundabout; towpaths; four locks; four footbridges; a new river weir alongside the B3107 towards Holt; and a hydroelectric power generator at the existing weir in town.

If Wiltshire Council gives planning permission, the trust will work with housing developers to plan ‘enabling works’. These could include over 600 houses being built along the route in exchange for funding from the housebuilders.

Paul continued, “We had originally hoped to get the money – around £20million – from Government grants, but that’s looking ever less likely in the current climate.

“Instead, we will be looking to work with housing developers and secure funding from them. It’s the only real way we can come up with such a large amount of money.

“I’m optimistic about the planning permission and I think the project is making definite progress now. It’s frustrating that it has been so slow, but hopefully we’ll secure the permission and can really get things moving.”

The application has received numerous messages in reply to Wiltshire Council’s consultation.

Some people living around Berryfield and Semington have raised concerns about roads and habitats in the area, but there is also widespread support for the scheme.

People are optimistic about the tourism a canal would bring to the town, the improvements to local scenery, and walking and cycling links in the area.

One Melksham resident wrote, “I cannot think of many better, more positive ways to improve Melksham. There are so many ways in which the town will benefit.”

Another said, “This proposal will be good for the character, presentation, attraction and standing of Melksham within Wiltshire. It is vital to take this opportunity now as it could be a generation before it arises again.”

To see the full plans and read the comments enter reference W/12/01080/FUL in the planning search at www.wiltshire.gov.uk