The award winning Wilts & Berks Canal Trust has expressed its disappointment to Forward Swindon for failing to recognise the potential of reinstating a canal through Swindon in its proposals for regenerating the town centre, writes chairman Mike Lang.
Of course the residents of Swindon are going to be ‘generally positive’ about the town centre renewal proposals put forward by Forward Swindon.
Everyone has known for years that Swindon needs a major shake-up, so anything is welcomed. But Forward Swindon has failed to come up with anything inspirational to catch the public imagination by including a once in a lifetime investment.
It’s regrettable that it has downplayed the level of support for the canal which has come from a plethora of organisations such as the Wiltshire Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership (representing all local authorities along the line of the canal), Sustrans and Canoe England, the Environment Agency and Natural England, as well as local canal societies and Swindon businesses represented by the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce. There have been well over a hundred individual expressions of support.
Forward Swindon cites cost as a possible obstacle, yet the canal trust has provided independent evidence that the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Forward Swindon says that the focus of their masterplan is economic growth yet they are ignoring a major driver of economic growth. We estimate inclusion of a canal will be worth £10 million a year to the town’s economy – a very significant contribution.
Trust officers recently managed to meet Forward Swindon, and learned that consultation responses are currently being analysed and amendments to the draft proposals it thinks appropriate will be included.
The trust and the partnership are suggesting that the council’s economic development steering group should commission Forward Swindon to carry out a full assessment of the costs and benefits of the canal project, and the timescales.
It is certainly possible to open a section of the canal through Swindon, and make connections to the national network in due course as funds come available.
Swindon wants the canal, as expressed in official Swindon Borough planning policy and strategy, as well as national sporting and leisure bodies, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire Councils, and the people of the town.
Forward Swindon needs to listen. We’re keen to talk about it.
Pictured: The Lord-Lieutenant of Wiltshire Mrs Sarah Rose Troughton prersenting the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service to canal trust officers on narrowboat Dragonfly at the end of September.
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