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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 18:15 GMT
Homes clear way for boats
Canal map
A controversial property development in open countryside could hold the key to restoration of a lost canal.

Up to three miles of the Wilts and Berks Canal will pass through the Front Garden area of Swindon, on its way to Oxfordshire.

But campaigners hope profits from homes will help pay to take the waterway under the M4 motorway, at the edge of the development site.

A tunnel could cost more than 2m.

The Wilts and Berks Canal Trust has recently been told it can excavate the line of the canal on the other side of the motorway, through a landfill site.

Wootton Bassett trail boat festival
A boat festival is being repeated at Wootton Bassett
That will add to pressure to cross the M4, said Henry Smith, one of the canal promoters.

He told BBC News Online: "Everything else pales into insignificance beside the challenge of crossing the motorway."

Bryant Homes unveiled plans for the Front Garden this month after challengers failed to win a High Court ruling against it.

The scheme shows the main line of the canal and a junction with the North Wilts Canal, which the trust also wants to restore.

Aqueduct wrecked

The Wilts and Berks Canal opened in 1795, linking the Kennet and Avon Canal at Melksham with the River Thames at Abingdon - now in Oxfordshire.

In 1820 the North Wilts Canal opened between Swindon and Wiltshire, joining the Thames and Severn Canal.

Canal trust boat
Boat trips are planned for Swindon this year
Boats were unable to travel the whole route after an aqueduct collapsed in 1901, and the waterways were official abandoned in 1914.

But a restoration group was formed in 1977 and now a partnership has been formed with British Waterways, the Environment Agency and local authorities along the route.

The canals are being promoted as part of a network called Wessex Waterways, including the River Thames and the Kennet and Avon.

Several short sections already have water, including a mile-long stretch through the Front Garden itself.

Route lost

Swindon presented a major barrier to restoration because most of the route had been swallowed by development.

A new route was devised, though the canal trust still has to negotiate with developers over where the two waterways will join in Swindon.

Bevan's Bridge, Wiltshire
The canal trust has restored locks and bridges
"We want it to be as close to the town centre as possible," said Mr Smith, chairman of the Swindon branch of the trust.

Work groups have restored bridges and locks.

They are currently working on one of a flight of seven locks near Lyneham.

A festival was held on the waterway at Wootton Bassett in 1998, for boats transported on trailers.

Another will be held there in June 2002, and boat trips are planned on the Front Garden section this summer.

Mr Smith is confident the canal will reopen. "I think it will be restored within 10 years," he said.

Click here to go to BBC Wiltshire

Click here to go to Oxford
See also:

26 May 01 | Scotland
Canal re-opens after 40 years
21 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Canals making a comeback
01 Oct 01 | England
Canal project makes web splash
25 Aug 01 | Scotland
Waterway re-opens after 30 years
07 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Canal age dawns anew in UK
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