MELKSHAM could receive a multi-million pound boost if a former waterway
is brought back through the town, according to a new study.
The old line of the Wilts & Berks Canal was lost under modern
developments but a plan has been submitted which would allow
narrowboats to use the River Avon instead.
The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust hopes to create 5 kilometres of
navigable waterway to include new locks, bridges, a towpath and
cycleway, together with visitor mooring, landscaping, environmental
improvements and even a hydro-electric power scheme.
The ‘Melksham Link’ would create a new junction with the Kennet &
Avon Canal near Semington with a long-term aspiration to reach the
Thames & Severn Canal near Cricklade and the River Thames near
Abingdon, connecting Lacock, Chippenham, Calne, Royal Wootton Bassett
the experiences of the nearby K&A and other studies to assess the
potential economic and tourism benefits of the proposed route.
It suggests the Melksham Link could spark an investment of £55million
in the town over the following ten years through riverside regeneration
and canalside residential and commercial opportunities – these could
include a major new marina and housing, as well as a camping or caravan
site, a restaurant and cafe or a new hotel.
Up to 250 jobs could be created during the initial construction phase
alone followed by around 100 new jobs in the tourism sector, and
home-owners nearest the route could see significant increases in the
value of their homes.
The development could inject up to £7.5million per year into the local economy.
The AMEC report was funded by Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, Wiltshire Council, Melksham Town Council and Melksham Trust.
Canal Trust spokesman Chris Coyle said: “We hope local people will
share our excitement at the benefits which a restored canal might bring
to Melksham, and we urge them to read the report in full to learn more
about the opportunities available.
“Of course there are many variables. Stakeholder discussions and
environmental studies continue, and planning permission has not yet
been granted, but this new assessment clearly shows how it could
transform the fortunes of the entire town.
“The charity hopes to secure the majority of the funding for the
restoration from national bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund or
developers, and the report highlights other sections of the canal which
have already been rebuilt thanks to the generous support of various
“Initially the Melksham Link would simply be an ‘arm’ of the Kennet
& Avon but we hope it would unlock further funding to continue the
restoration north to Lacock – already a major visitor attraction which
would surely draw boaters onto the new route – and then on to
Chippenham and beyond.
“Our ultimate aim is to create a new cruising ‘ring’ along the K&A,
the Wilts & Berks and the River Thames, with Swindon in the centre,
which would exploit the popularity of canals.
“Not only would we be offering a new amenity for boaters, canoeists,
walkers, runners, cyclists and anglers, but also a new wildlife
corridor with wetland areas and hedgerows which would offset their
national decline in recent years, proving new habitats for otters,
water voles and kingfishers.
“Such a safe and scenic route between local towns and villages would
also reduce the number of local car journeys and encourage more active
and healthy lifestyles.
The AMEC report suggests the total construction costs of the Melksham
Link would be around £21million and assumes work would start in 2015.
There are three development scenarios which assume the link and regeneration opportunities are successfully delivered.
The most conservative scenario is where Melksham experiences increased
activity but doesn’t undergo a step change. The canal brings additional
visitors, particularly in summer, but there isn’t enough demand for a
The most positive scenario is that Melksham becomes a destination on
the Southern Waterways Network with steady volumes of boat traffic from
across the region, and new waterfront businesses increase footfall from
the town centre to the river. Existing accommodation sees more
overnight visitors and there is enough demand for a new hotel.
Chris added: “The River Avon is currently an under-used asset with
limited access, but one day it could be used to host boat festivals and
other events which would help to put Melksham on the tourist map.
“Canals are now being restored at a faster pace than they were
originally built and there is already huge public interest in the
restoration of the Wilts & Berks along the entire length of the
“But Melksham is by far the most important piece of the jigsaw because
it connects with the popular Kennet & Avon Canal – which was also
brought back to life after falling derelict.
“Our hope is that a new link would create a ‘domino effect’ where
momentum then builds to continue the restoration along the rest of the
For more information about the local Branch of the Trust you can visit their Web site www.melkshamwaterway.org.uk